By Tammy Ballantyne
A grand piano slouches quietly downstage, lit by a solitary spotlight, as we enter the auditorium of the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. Heavy rain spatters down onto cobblestones and pebbles in a video projection on the back wall. The atmosphere is calm and tranquil.
What unfolds before us is an intimate twinning of singer/songwriter Shannon Hope with the six dancers from Flatfoot Dance Company; a moving series of sketches, choreographed by Lliane Loots, in what for me, is a love song to her dancers.
First performed at the Women’s Arts Festival at the Playhouse Company in 2013, HOPE is perhaps an unusual work for Loots; she is best known for her strong activist stance which imbues her dance-making with a political and highly-charged conscience. Here she explores a deeply personal terrain and the result is heartfelt, genuine and incredibly tender.
Hope’s exquisite voice accompanied by her own piano-playing soars above us as she sings of all the joys and pitfalls of love, the longing and surprises woven into relationships, while the dancers interpret the lyrics in fluid, organic short stories of seamless choreography.
When Hope sings of “blue skies on a cloudy day”, Jabu Siphika enters the space first, followed by Sifiso Majola, always surprising in his lightness. The others follow in a piece using careful partnering, which melds into Majola and Julia Wilson’s lyrical duet to “get your attention”, focussing on strong lifts and evoking a sadness of longing for something we can never have.
Siphika, Wilson and Zinhle Nzama impress in the aching “I gave my heart away today”, their eyes and mouths in sharp focus behind them in the video projection, while Majola with Sifiso Khumalo and Tshediso Khabulu, bring in the playful, upbeat “I might fall for you, boy”, playing a game with Hope as they flirt and tease from afar in little carefully constructed cameos.
The connection between singer and dancers is electric and charged as Hope sets the pace and allows for a stirring combination of poignancy and lightness. There is a beautiful, gentle duo between Siphika and Khumalo, which flows into the final ensemble piece “take every chance you can get; chase every dream, just believe”.
Wesley Maherry’s lighting is subtle and textured while Karen Logan’s video installations quietly add to the work without being invasive. The company looks good; the dancers are strong, light on their feet and have a unique quality, while Loots’ choreography is clean, elongated and lingers in their bodies.
Sometimes it comes as a relief to watch dance that is released from the burden of tackling difficult issues such as violence, abuse or corruption. HOPE is a little gem of a dance work which feeds the soul and will sustain us for a little while beyond all the gritty realities of our lives.