The University of Johannesburg’s dance interpretation of the famous 18th-century novel is spellbinding. See it, and see it again. By LESLEY STONES.
Five minutes into Dangerous Liaisons I remembered that I wasn’t a major fan of dance. I fidgeted, wondering how long it would go on for.
An hour later I couldn’t believe it was over so soon.
I clapped hard, thrilled by the ingenuity of the choreography and astonished by the dexterity and energy of the student dancers.
This interpretation of the 18th-century French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses was created for University of Johannesburg students by UJ’s resident choreographer, Owen Lonzar.
UJ often brings in professional performers to work with the students, but I was amazed to hear that the lead female dancer Kiki Moopa was a psychology student, not a professional dancer. If she ever wants an alternative to psychology, she’s got her vocation cut out for her, though. I’d love to see more of this stunning, sexy performer who beguiles and seduces with her sultry moves, throws tantrums and throws herself through the air with courage and confidence. She’s partnered by Angelo Collins, a professional dancer who is equally mesmerising.
They’re playing a calculated game of seduction with themselves and with others, all expressed through dance and enhanced by excellent moody lighting and screens that sometimes drop down to create a shadow dance behind them.
The idea within the novel has been adapted perfectly for young performers and a young audience, retaining the disciplines of classical dance but adding the liveliness of modern music.
There are elegant touches of cello, dazzling modern costumes that retain a touch of old-world elegance, and a mostly bare stage where a supporting cast of voyeurs can spread out and spread their rumours.
Fabulous pas de deux are performed to thumping beats or elegant melodies, swinging from passion to power struggles as the two fickle characters play a game of guile and seduction, and two others dance with pain and betrayal.
The characters aren’t given names. They could be any of us, all of us. Collins gets artistically lusty with the seductive Moopa, then finds his heart stolen by the plainer, frumpier character danced by Nontsikelelo Khasu, dressed in white to contrast with Moopa’s flame red.
One of the most powerful moments is the dance to ‘Rumour Has It’ by singer Adele, with Moopa trying every trick in the courtesan’s book and Collins agonising between the two women tearing at his heart.
Kwena Mobotsa is also fabulous as another part of the love tangle, a strong, sweeping dancer who’s an equal match for Collins when they engage in a funky Transformer-style fight.
Around them the ensemble keeps the mood changing, being inquisitive, condemning or encouraging as trysts form and unravel.
The dance is threaded with humour, too, with some lovely playful moments in the crowd scenes.
Snippets of narration begin the show and fill in at various moments, explaining how we play the game of love and how women can never hope to win when men cannot commit to only one partner. As the only guide to the actions, the narration is important, but it’s spoken too rapidly to always be understood clearly.
Yet the dance and the music are spellbinding anyway.
Lonzar has driven the students to extraordinary feats, and they pay him back handsomely. Ultimately, however, it’s the audience who wins.
* Dangerous Liaisons runs at UJ Arts Centre on the Kingsway campus until October 27.
Photos: Jan Potgieter