Back to basics: City Press attends a dance rehearsal

2017-02-19 06:01

Johannesburg - Dancers are laughing as I step into choreographer Douglas Sekete’s rehearsal this week; sweating profusely, yes, but still laughing at Sekete’s jibes between their drilling routines. They’ve been at it without a break for two hours by the time I sidle in, their bodies now pliable enough to take the forms he is moulding them into.

The 10 dancers I meet in the class are in the final stages of preparations for their upcoming performance at Dance Umbrella – the Young Artists Programme – where six young choreographers will present new works.

Their piece tells a story about the meeting of old friends, Sekete tells me later. A chance encounter he had with an old friend that he hadn’t seen for a very long time brought them back together. It reminded him how so much can change in a person, and in your relationship to them, but that so much can still stay the same.

It’s the sort of sentiment that is hard to read in a dance narrative, but simple to identify in your heart. They dance on tables, and with one another; creating, losing and re-creating those connections that keep us linked to one another, sometimes indefinitely.

From the corner of my eye I spot an elderly woman craning her neck to see the rehearsal going on inside. As she clings to the burglar bars of the dance studio at Uncle Tom’s Community Centre in Soweto, another woman joins her and starts to move her feet to the music, and then her booty,and then the two of them start breaking it down in the corridor.

I can’t help but look on, and move my shoulders in unison as the two of them smile at one another. I wonder to myself if I’ll be doing the same thing with my bestie at their age, our bodies broken, but our spirits still as alive as they were in our twenties.

"I’m taking it back to basics," Sekete says. "The dancers are moving to music a friend gave to me a while ago, which brings back the memory of that feeling when two people meet, and are happy to see one another.

"The piece is simple really. The choreography is just about enjoying the movement of the dance. To be honest, when it comes to contemporary work, I think that audiences find it difficult to connect with the majority of the works, so I’m trying to go back to something a person can just enjoy in music and dance."

His response to the profusion of "challenging" contemporary work, so often loaded in angst and "struggles for personal identity", is one I tend to agree with. Sometimes all we want is to be entertained, and find beauty in life’s small pleasures.

"People try to be so intelligent about it but dance, for me, should be something that a normal person can enjoy. Not to be so tricky about it, but to go back to something beautiful, that people want to watch again and again. We need audiences in the theatre again, you know?"

It shows in his casting of the show as well. The dancers are, as Sekete says, "people, at the end of the day". Many of their bodies are not ballerina-perfect, and neither is their technique, but that’s not what matters. This show is about dance that can be enjoyed by everyone.

*Catch the Young Artists Programme on Sunday, 5 March, at the Wits University Amphitheatre.

(Photos: City Press)

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