There is something about ballet, about the fluid movement of the dance when a perfectly contoured man lifts up a demure woman in a pas de deux. It’s beautiful, classical…. lovely. A Spartacus of Africa has been a long time coming after the original being presented to local audiences over twenty years ago, but it’s hiatus has been well worth the wait. Choreographed by the acclaimed Veronica Paeper, the adapted, African-themed production brings to the fore a mixture of classical dance infused with a fresh, contemporary twist.
A Spartacus Of Africa tells the story of defeated warrior Amari, who unwilling to accept his fate as a slave, perseveres to free himself and others. Under the influence of the magical spirit, Isenyaya, he stages a revolt against his captors Nagash, Badu and their loyal followers.
The red velvet curtain is drawn revealing the ghoulish figure of the African spirit Isenyaya in a dimmed light strumming slow, rhythmical beats on his African drum. Donning a floor-length cloak with his face painted in black and white, he casts an eerie figure creating a unanimous feeling of unease among the audience. These feelings are short-lived as the stage soon erupts into a busy spectacle of dance. With a brimming stage of performers wearing vibrantly coloured, African-inspired clothing and dancing simultaneously, it’s difficult to know where to fix your eye. You’re faced with the jubilant movements of the victors as well as the staggered, defeated saunter of the newly enslaved. While appearing seemingly chaotic, it’s of the good kind that somehow pieces together harmoniously. The stage is abuzz and you’re bound to get caught up in the moment.
Juxtaposition is a recurrence within A Spartacus of Africa, where the grandiose, opulent lifestyle of Nagash and Badu are contrasted to that of the defeated warriors through the use of movement. The dancing style of the victors is consistently nonchalant, composed and without urgency. Meanwhile, the slaves culminate from their wooden traipsing of the seemingly hopeless being commandeered like puppets to the fiery, empowered movements of their revolt.
One’s first encounter with Amari is awe-striking, and it’s not because of his flawless physical appearance. Played by the enormously talented Brooklyn Mack, Amiri is captivating during his agonising separation from his beloved Fayola. The duet is fraught with intimacy and bound to evoke feelings of intense, raw emotion from the audience. If you don’t shed a tear or two during the performance then perhaps your tear ducts have shrivelled up.
And while the pas de deux are seemingly sensual by nature – a unity of two bodies intertwined – it’s intriguing to take note of how different each one is from the other. With Nagash’s growing indifference towards his mistress Nadira, while she attempts to win back his adoration through distraction and enticement. The scene is powerful with its direct contrast to the embracing lovers, as it is purposely devoid of affection with Nagash dramatically pushing her to the floor on several occasions.
Spartacus isn’t all duets but contains a number of riveting group scenes. Once unrivalled gladiators of unyielding strength, Spartacus and the fellow slaves become throwaway play things to their captors. To sate their need for mean-spirited entertainment the men are put against one another in a fight to the death. For me, this glorified fight scene was a definitive highlight. The men with spears in hand dance together in perfect synchronisation while stalking each other like a lion would its prey.
Despite the fact that your attention is rarely diverted from centre stage, it would be false to say that the accompanying sounds of the Philharmonic Orchestra is a mere overture to the main performance. Playing classical music by composer Aram Kachaturian with a little bit of drumming thrown into the mix, the orchestra’s presence enhances an already incandescent performance by the dancers.
Complete with an energetic cast of dancers, a poignant story line and beautiful music – A Spartacus of Africa is a not-to-be-missed production suited to ballet novices and lovers of dance alike.
Where Artscape Theatre, DF Malan Street, CBD
When Saturday 27 June – Sunday 11 July 2015, Wednesday and Friday 7:30 pm, Saturday and Sunday 3 pm and 7:30 pm
Cost R150 – R475 from Computicket
Photography Adam McConnachie, Bill Zurich, Courtesy