Maverick Life


Come Together (Again) – a dance show, full of the stuff of life, returns to Cape Town

Come Together (Again) – a dance show, full of the stuff of life, returns to Cape Town
In 'Come Together', the student cast demonstrates what it is to experience joy through dance. Image: Gustav Klotz Photography

In an era of advancing hi-tech, a student ensemble goes all out in a rousing reminder of what it means to be human.

AI is coming for us. Not only for our jobs, but – if you factor in the latest hocus-pocus from data-scraping platforms like GPT-3 – also for our souls. 

We’ve reached a moment in tech’s evolution that even those of us engaged in creative pursuits are wondering how long it’ll be before robots take over. Already the fancy algorithms are churning out essays and paintings and music, along with other sort-of-kind-of-original content. 

But this is neither a doomsday tale about tech’s takeover, nor a sci-fi story about how the future that’s being engineered will see all human endeavour subsumed by an artificial intelligence that knows us better than we know ourselves and can therefore do whatever we can do, only better, faster, cheaper. 

This is a story about a real-life experience, a memory of an actual event in the winter of 2022. I know it was genuine, because I felt my heart beating in my throat and as I walked out of that theatre into the chill late-night air and knew my entire body was charged up – I was walking on clouds, my spirit soaring, fully alive.

It took a lot of hard work – the toil of other humans, all real – to get me into that transcendent state. Some would describe it as a natural high, an endorphin rush. Perhaps I don’t get out enough. It was the thrill of the live encounter that had moved me, not only emotionally, but to the point of a physical reaction, a sensation I felt throughout my being.

The dance numbers in 'Come Together' cycle through a bewildering array of styles, genres and eras. Image: Gustav Klotz Photography

The dance numbers in ‘Come Together’ cycle through a bewildering array of styles, genres and eras. Image: Gustav Klotz Photography

A jazzy moment in 'Come Together', a heart-quickening dance show featuring a large ensemble of LAMTA students. Image: Gustav Klotz Photography

A jazzy moment in ‘Come Together’, a heart-quickening dance show featuring a large ensemble of Lamta students. Image: Gustav Klotz Photography

It had been an exhilarating performance by a large cast, an exuberant dance show full of razzmatazz. The ensemble – spunky, talented, athletic, energetic students who worked their bodies like their lives depended on it – poured their souls out and transported those of us in the audience emotionally, intellectually, metaphysically. 

That night, high on the show’s energy and the feeling of aliveness it had stirred, I went home and gushed on social media: 

“Their energy is relentless, their passion for the stage a lesson in following your dreams that all of us should take to heart. Beyond the verve and thrilling commitment, it’s the deep talent, the evidence of backbreaking rehearsals, and the polished performances that set Lamta’s latest production apart. It is 90 minutes spent in a theatre getting your life-force back, rediscovering your heart and soul, remembering your youth and barely controlling your desire to jump up and join the students on stage. It’s a dozen-and-a-half frankly mind-blowing dance pieces choreographed by many of the top talents in the country and pulled off with dizzying aplomb. They are polished, cool, sexy, utterly intoxicating. 

“And they put every ounce of their being into each and every move. The accompanying soundtrack of songs written by The Beatles is stirring and inspiring – the audaciousness of what’s been conjured out of the ether as the music gives flight to imagination just takes your breath away. By the end of the night you just want to hug every single one of these young people, thank them for pouring their guts into a production that will send you soaring into the night. If this is the future of live performance in South Africa, our theatres will never die.”

I wonder what Facebook’s algorithm made of that? What weird calculations were made in response to my outpouring of unabashed enthusiasm in an attempt to determine what adverts I would see next. If anything’s certain, I don’t get enough theatre spam in my feed. Stupid robots.

Presumably, part of what motivated such strong feelings had to do with a sense of relief. Relief that live theatre was not doomed as many had forecast during the darkest, bleakest part of the pandemic, when – for a seemingly endless time – theatres were shuttered and then only permitted to operate half-empty. 

Elegance and grace in 'Come Together', a very human dance show featuring students of Cape Town's dedicated musical theatre school, LAMTA. Image: Gustav Klotz Photography

Elegance and grace in ‘Come Together’, a very human dance show featuring students of Cape Town’s dedicated musical theatre school, Lamta. Image: Gustav Klotz Photography

Tap features strongly in 'Come Together', the Beatles-inspired dance show returning to Theatre on the Bay in February. Image: Gustav Klotz Photography

Tap features strongly in ‘Come Together’, the Beatles-inspired dance show returning to Theatre on the Bay in February. Image: Gustav Klotz Photography

Golden voiced LAMTA student Robert Everson covers the Beatles' 'Can't Buy Me Love in 'Come Together'. Image: Gustav Klotz Photography

Golden-voiced Lama student Robert Everson covers The Beatles’ ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ in ‘Come Together’. Image: Gustav Klotz Photography

Come Together, the revue I felt such a strong response to, premiered at Cape Town’s Theatre on the Bay last June; the title referred not only to the hit song featured in the show’s pulse-quickening finale, but also obliquely celebrated the idea that, after prolonged phases of isolation, we could indeed “come together” collectively as audiences and be in fully operational theatres, no masks required. 

The show must have struck a chord with a lot of other people, too, because – extraordinarily for a student production – it travelled to Johannesburg for performances in November. 

Equally unprecedented, it’s now returning to its original Camps Bay venue from 1 to 11 February for a summer run. 

It’s an experience worth making time for. From teary-eyed ballads to harder and sexier, more hip-grindery stuff, the soundtrack knits together a head-spinning variety of Beatles covers, many of which are quite tangential to the original bouncing beats of the Fab Four. There are covers by Billy Ocean and Bobby McFerrin, revised versions of their hits by Rita Lee and Diana Krall, there’s Cody Fry singing Eleanor Rigby and Sinatra doing Yesterday, and there’s a rousing live rendition of Can’t Buy Me Love by Robert Everson, who has the crystal voice of a future star. 

The music’s range of various alternative styles corresponds with the considerable flexibility of dance traditions, too. While not every student studying for a career in musical theatre is a trained dancer, this cast has an incredible range of combined skills and tremendous talent and so, with all their might, they have taken on board a lot of complex choreography and some difficult moves. 

Working under a team of industry-professional choreographers, the show requires them to move in myriad ways, mixing dance genres, styles and eras of influence. At times you are aware of the athleticism demanded of them, how far they’ll go and how hard they’re pushing themselves with unsubtle hip gyrations and exhausting, almost gymnastic routines. In other moments, they quieten the mood and trust in the allure and intrigue of gentler gestures, provocative glances and physical metaphor to convey a confidence in the language and rhythm of their own bodies. And, of course, there’s that totally punked-up, full-cast, black-leather finale that transforms the entire theatre into a seething fetish club. 

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It’s electric, and you come away feeling satiated, pumped and a little bit in love with the entire cast. 

This is no accident. That experience – of an audience being utterly seduced by a performance – is largely thanks to the willingness of the performers to make themselves vulnerable. Such ability to open up on stage (or in front of a film camera, in the recording studio, at an easel, or when a writer takes pen in hand) is precisely what true creativity demands – it is that moment when artists bare their souls. 

It’s the willingness of the young cast to be vulnerable that makes Come Together so vital and affecting: it isn’t simply an assemblage of dance routines executed according to the dictates of an algorithm, it is a window on to the very souls of the performers on stage.

And here’s the good news for those young people: vulnerability of this sort isn’t something AI is capable of. 

Because the algorithms that will increasingly churn out stories and make up songs and create artworks or construct realistic-looking digital simulations of movie stars will never understand what it means to want to create. They cannot know the sensation of dancing, nor the feeling we get when we satisfy a craving to express ourselves with our bodies.

No robot will ever possess a human’s desire to make something out of nothing, nor to create something simply for the joy of doing so. 

This show, as much as it is worth experiencing for what it will do for your soul, is also a reminder of that magical thing we possess that sets us apart – the human spirit. It is something that cannot be replicated, no matter how intelligent the artifice. DM/ML

Come Together plays at Cape Town’s Theatre on the Bay from 1 to 11 February. Tickets are available from Webtickets.


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