World Dance

“Tango Buenos Aires” Saturday, Nov 11, 2017
“Festival of South African Dance” Sunday, Nov 12, 2017

Cal Performances Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley

Two Dimensions on “World Dance

It’s a wonder that the human body responds with so much variety and complexity to rhythm, costuming, environment and social conditions. All of this and more was brought to viewing in Cal Performance’s World Dance this past weekend. The “Festival of South African Dance” succeeded: the “Tango Buenos Aires,” though ‘sensational’ in its way, failed. In both cases, the adaptation to the contemporary stage brought problems.

Sound amplification is very useful and appropriate when needed, but acoustics in Zellerbach Hall are good. Think of all the splendid music concerts, un-miked, that are played there. No matter what the choice of performers might be, sound engineers might test the sound in the house.

Tango Buenos Aires” beside deteriorating into a set of ‘night-club’ acts, had the misfortune of blasting its music during all numbers. In addition, the piano, bandoneon(s), violin and bass seemed not to be in balance. The dancing, enthusiastically performed, consisted of repetitive patterns for couples, (tango steps, dips, backward falls, leg extensions) and pseudo tap steps for solo men. There was also a phony soccer game, Broadway divertissements and other entertainments. The heart of tango was missing.

Very different in intention and performance was the Festival of South African Dance. Although fully staged for contemporary audiences, the program made vivid both the stories and the ‘moves’ of these South Africans. The ‘Gumboots Dance Company’ consists of four young dancers who wear gumboots to work in the damp gold mines. Their tasks are hard, the fatigue endless, but the dancing is fast, furious and delightful. The choreography consists of intricate footwork accompanied by clapping and slapping on the body, as well as general locomotion, acrobatics, falls and tumbles, almost always facing downstage. They were accompanied by good singing, lead vocalist Siyabonga Hilatswayo and fine drumming. The many scenes of “The Gumboot” Musical tells their story: the work, the pay, the family, the return home … even the celebration of drinking beer.

The Real Actions Pantsula Dance Company took over after intermission. These five, including choreographer Sibusiso Mthembu, are taller and their dance depicts a more urban scene. They mime daily life in Johannesburg and the show the hustles of a car wash, a social club, hunting memories, and their individual styles. Theirs is a continual series of dance inventions, social interactions and skill display. For this viewer, my only longing was for more rhythmic variation in the drums (one tempo prevailed) and more variation in the “down front” focus that the dancers took in line.

All dancers joined together for long, but delightful finale. Praises for the Festival of South African Dance. The dancers, musicians and all participants brought us something to learn, to enjoy and to praise.

Joanna G. Harris