A buzz surrounds the University of Johannesburg Arts Centre as audience members anticipate the opening night of the 30th edition of Dance Umbrella.
Friendly chatter and a whiff of wine from the cash bars on either side of the venue’s foyer fill the air.
The theatre quickly fills up, the lights are dimmed and phones are switched off.
Georgina Thomson, the artistic director of the Dance Umbrella, takes the stage. She reads a heartfelt speech and makes an announcement that shocks the crowd.
The 30th edition of the Dance Umbrella is the last Dance Umbrella, she says as she cuts a lone figure under the theatre’s spotlight.
The audience gasps, but quickly gain composure when a dramatic performance fills the theatre like storm clouds rolling in.
Vuyani Maqoma’s Mayhem and Vincent Mantsoe’s Gula Matari open this festival with breathtaking performances.
The Mayhem performers occupy the stage with captivating solos and perfectly synchronised choreography. Themes of falling and levitation, chaos and structure exude power. Sweat sprays off the stage as the performers bare their souls to the audience. The overall performance has an impeccable music score, and great stage and lighting direction.
Internationally acclaimed dancer and choreographer Mantsoe performs a solo of his renowned piece Gula Matari before four other dancers join him on stage.
Mantsoe has performed this piece before, but he executes each movement is if he’s doing it for the first time.
Vibrant energy explodes from his toes, through his body to his fingertips before filling up the stage and bathing the audience in light.
When performing the embodiment of the bird (gula) his stomach inflates and flexes. Each movement keeps him alive.
His technique is meticulous and his stage presence is profound. The rich influence of African spirituality in his performance is well defined. The whistle-like sounds and explosive rumble are like echoes from the theatre.
When the lights dim, signalling the end, the audience roars and meets Mantsoe’s choreographed bow with a standing ovation.
These two performances are the first of the 12-day festival. This year’s Dance Umbrella will last until March 18.
Visit danceforumsouthafrica.co.za for the full programme.