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Monday, July 26, 2010


(Pic by Val Adamson: Back row: Samantha Misra, Uraysha Ramracheya, Aakashna Deokumar, Yaditha Singh with - front row: Shaneel Sookdeo, Kunaal Singh, Yasheen Bhagwandeen, Nirmesh Ranbhir))

Ambitious project honours the 150h anniversary of the arrival of Indians in SA. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Just opened in the Playhouse Opera and set to run through the South African Women’s Arts Festival next weekend, the Nateshwar Dance Academy’s Sunghursh (meaning ‘The Struggle’) is well-timed for this year’s 1860 celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Indians in South Africa. The show particularly celebrates the resilience and success of Indian women in aspects of South African life.

Directed by Smeetha Maharaj, Sunghursh is scripted and designed by Rakesh Maharaj. Choreographed by Varsha Sharma, with Vusi Makanya as guest choreographer, the production once again offers a visual feast in terms of an ever-changing array of beautiful costumes. Nateshwar Dance Company combines with guest artists from the classical and contemporary Indian traditions, folk dancing, Zulu and contemporary styles.

“For you to move forward, you have to know where you’ve come from” says the grandfather (Dhaveshan Govender). He and his wife (Shika Budhoo) efficiently provide the narrative as they explain to their grandchildren (Khinali Bagwandeen, Meerachal Rambhir and Pratish Deonarian) the story of the historic struggle of the South African Indian.

Featuring 40 dancers, this is an ambitious project – not only in having to encapsulate 150 years of the growth of the Indian community in all its aspects but also in recording the constantly-changing political and sociological landscape of South Africa from the days of the British Colonial government to the present.

Another challenge is placing this production in The Playhouse Opera – a splendid but vast space to fill, both from a stage and an audience viewpoint. Irek Karamon’s set design is a series of rostra providing different levels of performance space with huts, sugar cane plants, mosques, shops and ships either flown or trucked in for numerous scene changes.

The first half of the programme goes smoothly but the second half needs attention. Technically, there are too many blackouts and use of the scrim. Scenes need to dovetail into each other more effectively. The stage is big enough to be able move scenery in the dark while focused lighting on another part of the stage allows the action to continue. Creatively, the second half lacks the focus of the first and more could be done to portray integration as the show builds to the final scene where the two World Cup soccer songs are guaranteed to rekindle the patriotic fervour of the past two months!

Dylan Heaton’s lighting is moody with many scenes in silhouette – the sections of political unrest being very dramatic - and his design for the impressive Vande Mataram after interval is most effective. Dealing with the rise of Indian women and their fight for equality, this piece starts off in stark simplicity with the female dancers all in white. As they become more militant, the lighting builds in colour and intensity.

Sunghursh is both entertaining and informative providing an important look at a community which has made a great contribution to the development of the South Africa of today.

Presented by Nateshwar Dance Company, in association with The Playhouse Company, Sunghursh runs in the Playhouse Opera until August 8 with evening performances at 20h00 (matinees at 15h00). Tickets range from R80 to R100 (R120 at the door). Schools performances are at 11h00 with tickets at R40 per learner. Booking is through Computicket on 083 915 8000 or call Playhouse Box Office 031 369 9540 (office hours). – Caroline Smart