Review: Robyn Orlin/Moving Into Dance Mophatong - Beauty Remained for Just a Moment...

Performance: 19 - 21 October 2013
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Thursday 24 October 2013

Moving Into Dance Mophatong 'Beauty Remained for Just a Moment Then Returned Gently to Her Standing Position' Photo: John Hogg

Performance reviewed: 19 October 2013

What is beauty? South African choreographer Robyn Orlin asks this question with her opulently-titled current work, and then immediately offers up a plethora of possibilities: chickens pecking at the ground; the bright South African sun; a cool drink of safe, bottled water; the crunching of litter; the beauty of a recycled ballgown made of shopping bags. In Orlin’s world, beauty arrives in unexpected places – and far from bearing passive witness to beauty, the audience becomes a vital part of its production.

The seven dancers of Johannesburg’s Moving Into Dance Mophatong embody a relentless energy too vast to be bound by the stage; they spill into the auditorium repeatedly, climbing among the audience and shimmying in the aisles. Just as the performers are not restricted to the stage, the performance itself is not restricted to the dancers; whipped into action by dancer Julia Burnham the audience creates a lush soundscape of gargling and swilling water (kindly provided at the door), followed by a percussive accompaniment of bottle crumpling for the cast to sing along to and an “installation” of empty plastic bottles thrown on stage.

Beauty Remained for Just a Moment Then Returned Gently to Her Standing Position is at its best when the talented cast bring life to Orlin’s pure dance sequences. There’s an infectious, boisterous joy to these sections, which combine the polyrhythmic footwork and low-slung postures of African dance with high contemporary extensions and supple floorwork. The company moves together, not in mechanical unison but with an instinctive connection that is exhilarating to watch. The talents of the company members don’t stop at dance, either; the cast sing rich, close harmonies in several scenes, including a memorable section where each dancer is balanced upside-down on his or her head while singing.

The cast also show themselves to be adept at rowdy comedy, and unafraid to parade and catwalk in an extraordinary variety of recycled costumes that transform such found items as plastic carrier bags, discarded CDs, polystyrene cups and bin liners into ballgowns, sarongs and tutus. Finding herself skirtless on the catwalk, the audacious Burnham ascends once more into the audience and persuades several of the viewing public to part with items of clothing to strap into a kilt made of items that are not so much recovered as commandeered. Although this action leaves several audience members shirtless for a while, nobody much seems to mind.

If there’s one weakness in Beauty Remained for Just a Moment Then Returned Gently to Her Standing Position, it’s that the moments of audience participation sometimes take a while to get going and suck the energy out of the performance as a whole. Although the cast get stuck into their roles with gusto, the repeated noisy exhortations to look over here, gargle this, crumple that or throw the other start to wear a little thin with repetition, and some of the interactive sequences feel more like panto than the fully-developed dance theatre that surrounds them. There is beauty in the work, but there’s also a lot that could be excised; it’s notable that the production credits list no dramaturge or director, who might tighten up the work and keep the vitality flowing.

From the audience response, however, there’s no doubt that Orlin’s warm-hearted work brought a welcome dose of sunshine to a rainy Stratford evening on the last weekend of Dance Umbrella 2013. Beauty Remained… is buoyant, spirited, rowdy fun – with more than just a moment of beauty.

Lise Smith is a dance manager and teacher, as well as a regular contributor to, londonist & Arts Professional. Lise is currently coordinating

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