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Monday, May 18, 2009


Seaworld’s magnificent dolphins now perform to maximum effect. (Review by Caroline Smart)

On a blustery Saturday afternoon which turned to driving rain, with many people sheltering high up on the stands to avoid getting wet, the first audience of the new Dolphin show at uShaka Marine World remained riveted and hugely entertained.

Today’s electronic technology has created a fascinating new visual world for the average man in the street – you can take, send and receive photographs on your cellphone, not to mention catch movie clips on You-Tube as well as broadcast yourself.

So, while the incredible dolphins of uShaka perform magnificent feats, their show was getting a little tired and out of date for audiences in the visual fast lane.

Enter Nicholas Ellenbogen of Theatre for Africa who, in collaboration with composer Dave Ornellas and Sea World Dolphinarium curator Gabby Harris – has injected a new and exciting energy into the dolphins’ performances, accompanied by a well-produced audiovisual production.

Nicholas Ellenbogen is no stranger to Durban audiences, having founded the sadly-now-defunct experimental Loft Theatre Company for the Natal Performing Arts Council (now the Playhouse) in the 80’s before moving into the position of Head of Drama. If an Ellenbogen production was on the cards, you always knew that it was bound to be very different and would challenge your senses! Ellenbogen went on to form the now internationally-acclaimed Theatre for Africa with his wife, actress Liz Szymczak, and regulars to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown will know him well from his whacky “Raider” series.

While the uShaka dolphin show obviously showcases the impressive capabilities of the magnificent dolphins, the production must remain true to Sea World’s commitment to marine conservation. Ellenbogen has created a story line titled Shaka’s Tears which traces King Shaka’s changing attitude to the sea and its amazing creatures. The stronger dramatic content required for this production saw both trainers and dolphins alike learning new skills under Szymczak’s careful direction.

The genial host is Lungisane Mbhele and, along with fellow-trainer Gabby Harris as the strandloper, he keeps the real live drama content going with a group of drummers and dancing warriors.

The sound quality of the audiovisual is excellent and the soundtrack was composed by South African rock legend Dave Ornellas and includes vocals by Brenda Radloff, another well-known former Durban actress. The film inserts were created by Darrol Williams and one of the most heartwarming sequences saw the rare footage of the birth of the new Sea World dolphin Khethiwe last November, as well as KZN’s sardine run where wild dolphins are seen having a feast.

Gambit - the “old man” of Sea World and weighing about the same as a small car - is, as always, magnificent. To watch this superb creature leap into the air and come thundering down again is truly the most exhilarating sight. This city – and undoubtedly many Sea World workers – will probably declare a national day of mourning when he goes.

Shaka’s Tears is a guaranteed delight for all ages. There are regular performances – contact uShaka Marine World on 031 328 8000 for more information. – Caroline Smart