In a year celebrating its fortieth anniversary, Jazzart Dance Theatre presents its fifth intake of trainees in a showcase performance entitled DESTINATION... LERATO. Jazzart's Training Programme provides full-time dance and theatre training to young adults from local townships across South Africa and the trainees that appear in this production are full of verve and commitment, forming an appealing and endearing ensemble. That said, productions of this kind tend to be something of a curate's egg and DESTINATION... LERATO is no exception, with the dancers themselves coming off better than the piece in which they appear.
DESTINATION... LERATO has two primary thematic thrusts. One - as reflected in the title - deals with the pursuit of love, while the other proposes a meta-theatrical debate on the nature of dance and its relationship to music and language. Both ask us to look at the world differently. These ideas have been workshopped by the cast, with Faniswa Yisa acting as a story consultant, and brought to life in choreography created by Jacqueline Manyaapelo, Mzokuthula Gasa, Ina Wichterich-Mogane and the trainees themselves. For me, these broad themes and multiple creative influences never quite gel into a cohesive piece of enlightening entertainment, the likes of which has the ability to transform lives through the power of the performing arts, which is what DESTINATION... LERATO appears to set as its goal within the wider contect of Jazzart's mission.
DESTINATION... LERATO begins with a lengthy spoken word introduction introducing the theme of love before launching into the first dance sequence, in which the men performing a deft piece of choreography with coins, while the women perform a quick, strong and direct gestural sequences, both literal and abstract, before the men began to weave in and out of the women, objectifying them as well as competing for them. The piece reminded me of Jerome Robbins's choreography for "The Dance at the Gym" in WEST SIDE STORY, not in its style or in its steps, but in its intent and method of characterising two groups contesting each other's dominance in a typically human fashion of competitive display. Along with a piece that inventively uses shoes to inspire choreography, this is the most memorable and successfully executed full ensemble piece of the evening.
More challenging is the final piece, where the company is paired up, with each couple performing a short relationship-defining sequence downstage, sometimes in canon with another pair, with the rest of the company upstage, with Thumeka Mzayiya and Bongani Bonasi (the vocalists who appear alongside the dancers throughout the evening) and Ntombizandile Nonyati (who delivered much of the spoken word content) centre stage. The choreography of this sequence is impressive and moving, and the contributions of the vocalists, as they are throughout the performance, are mesmerizing. But Nonyati's role in this sequence seems unclear. She seems to be calling out to the performers - one captures the odd name - but what is she saying to them? The sound balance between her voice, the vocalists and the music does not facilitate the audience's ability to pick out her words and indeed the soundscape is so busy at this moment in the show that efforts in that direction might prove futile. Her presence here is an odd directorial decision that seems to be motivated by the need to have the entire company on stage for the finale and it detracts from the impact of the piece as a whole. It is in that kind of conceptual detail where DESTINATION... LERATO still has a journey to complete.
In this company of expressive dancers, each of whom has their own strengths, there are naturally some who stand out from the rest. These include Lee-Joel Bosman, who performs a dazzling solo piece midway through the show; Tamsyn Spannenberg, whose emotional range and flexibility make the most of the choreography she dances; Katlego Moncho, whose sassy attitude punctuates her every move; and Nkosinathi Mngomezulu, whose performance throughout is captivating and compelling.