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Wednesday, June 3, 2015


(Vishen Kemraj, Madala Kunene & Manesh Maharaj. Pic by Val Adamson)

A breathtaking, magical and, almost ethereal experience. (Review by Keith Millar)

Bringing the curtain down on the Playhouse Company’s 2015 new Stages season was the remarkable, award winning dance production, Bhakti.

Not being very well-versed in the art of dance, I was a little nervous at the prospect of having to pass comment on a performance of this work. However, I needn’t have worried because quite frankly I was blown away by this exciting production.

It was a breathtaking, magical and, almost ethereal experience.

Bhakti is a passionate inter-cultural fusion of contemporary and Indian classical dance supported by unique soul- stirring music, film projections and the spoken word. Originally created in 2010 by renowned choreographer Lliane Loots, it went on to win a coveted Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival a year later.

The latest incarnation of Bhakti which was seen at the New Stages season at the Playhouse was performed by attractive, graceful and very skilled dancers from Flatfoot Dance Company and the Playhouse Dance Residency. They were joined by four of Durban’s most eminent and gifted Indian classical dancers in Manesh Maharaj, Priyen Naidoo, Aarti Narotam and Sivani Chinappan.

Together they interweave their contrasting cultures into a mesmerising display of movement, rhythmic action, gestures, patterns and emotion. It’s fast-paced, relentless and completely mesmerising dance, which elicited several spontaneous outbreaks of applause from the appreciative audience.

Providing the music for the production was an unusual combination of instruments. Constructing intricate rhythms on the tablas was the impressive Vishen Kemraj. He played non-stop for over an hour – an impressive performance of skill and stamina. Joining him was the legendary maskandi guitarist Madala Kunene, who must certainly rank as one of the best in the country. Accompanying them on the djembe drum and various other percussion instruments was Mandla Matsha.

The unique music produced by this group was moving and spiritual, and was the perfect backdrop for the dancers to create their magic.

Durban poet Iain Ewok Robertson provided the spoken-word component of the programme. He delivered the Rumi inspired poetry with all his usual exquisite rhythm and timing.

Karen Logan’s close up film projections of images such as hand mudras and blossoming marigolds completed the mystical atmosphere of the production.

Bhakti, which means devotion in Sanskrit, is a memorable dance production. More than just entertainment it is an invigorating and inspiring experience. Bhakti has been revived on a number of occasions and hopefully this will happen again. When it does, don’t miss it. If you aren’t a particular fan of dance, go anyway. You may end up, as I did, a convert. – Keith Millar