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Saturday, November 29, 2014


(Manesh Maharaj & Kirsty Ndawo. 
Madala Kunene & Mandla Matsha can be seen in the background)

( Pic by Val Adamson)
Stimulating dance work is a definite must-see for lovers of both contemporary and classical Indian dance. (Review by Caroline Smart)

In collaboration with KZN DanceLink, choreographer Lliane Loots created Bhakti in 2010 with her Flatfoot Dance Company. She invited classically trained Indian dancers to collaborate with Flatfoot in a work that comprised contemporary and Indian classical dance as well as music, video imagery and the spoken word. The result was highly successful and, not surprisingly, Bhakti went on to win one of the coveted Ovation Awards at the National Arts Festival a year later.

Four years on since its inception, Bhakti is back at the Playhouse, having opened last night in the Playhouse Drama for an all-too short season. Bhakti is one of three highly acclaimed productions selected by the Playhouse Company for its 20 Years of Democracy season which draws to a close at the end of the month.

I was impressed with the dance work the first time around, but this new version has the stronger impact of a larger cast, incorporating the Playhouse Dance Residency as well as acclaimed Kathak exponent, Manesh Maharaj., and three classical Indian dancers.

In her column in The Mercury, Lliane Loots explains Bhakti as her “journey into confronting the very best of who we are as South Africans.” Bhakti is the Sanskrit word for devotion and the work sprang from Loots’ love for the works of Sufi poet Rumi.

She continues: “I have a sense that we are all spinning in our own cosmic dance and this spinning, like those Sufi Dervishes, is really the fabric of who we are.”

There is certainly a major focus on spinning and most of this is expertly handled by Maharaj, to spontaneous applause. This production also permitted me to see Maharaj without his usual heavy make-up, giving me the opportunity of appreciating his engaging facial expressions. He is a master of his craft.

Bhakti starts with a sense of stillness. It’s very soulful, the movements being calm and graceful. As the work progresses, so the energy accelerates. There are some impressive sequences with spectacular movements, gaining exhilarated response from the audience. The dancers – all originally clothed in white – don brightly-coloured sashes to add to the vigorous progress. Raheem Kemet, who handles Rumi’s poetry, was particularly impressive in the build-up to the final climax.

The production again features Vishen Kemraj (tabla); Mandla Matsha (djembe drum) with Madala Kunene (guitar). As it did before, Karen Logan’s screened images of marigolds, hand mudras and ancient texts add to the spiritual feel of the work.

Flatfoot is to be congratulated on such a stimulating dance work. It is a definite must-see for lovers of both contemporary and classical Indian dance. They need not fear a “cultural crossover” of a superficial nature. In Bhakti, each dance form is well respected and the integration handled with high regard for the cultural value of each style.

Bhakti runs in the Playhouse Drama until November 30. Performances today (November 29) at 14h30 and 19h30 and tomorrow (November 30) at 15h00. Tickets R80 booked through Computicket. - Caroline Smart