ZOO Southside, Edinburgh
August 11, 2018
Youth dance can be a difficult sell on the Fringe. It tends to come in volume, in terms of loudness of the music, energetic choreography and number of dancers. Of course, it’s understandable that one wants to capture the energy of the youngsters and give everyone as much stage time as possible, but it doesn’t always make for good choreography.
But it’s not all like that as 34/18 Youth Dance Company showed during their short season at ZOO Southside. It’s an impressively inclusive company offering classes in hip hop, ballet, contemporary dance and jazz, as well as making work that draws on local influences. And 34/18? 34 degrees latitude, 18 degrees longitude. Cape Town.
Directed by Wendi Abrahams, Step Into Africa 4 (this being their fourth visit) provided 50 minutes or so of intelligent choreography in various styles, performed by the company’s 14 dancers that made the trip, aged 12-19. It was very well danced too, a wonderful demonstration of the wealth of talent there is in South Africa that, sadly, doesn’t always get the chance to flourish that it deserves.
It was a fabulous way to start the day with some seriously good contemporary dance alongside a dash of hip-hop (why do we see so little good hip hop on the Fringe?), pantsula and (of course) gumboot. The dancers of 34/18 are nothing if not versatile.
I particularly enjoyed UFOUR by Kirvan Fortuin, a South African choreographer and dancer presently working out of the Netherlands. For just four dancers, it’s a thoughtful look at how society classifies identity and gender, how it labels people, and how it forces people to meet expectations and portray a certain ideal image. It considers that fact that everyone has a masculine and feminine side, challenging the gender binary. A serious subject, tackled seriously. The quartet looked totally at home in dance that felt urban while still clearly rooted in classicism.
But it wasn’t only the technique that shone. I was equally struck by the way the dancers engaged with the subject matter. I sensed they understood. They also managed to reach out and connect with those in the audience, not easy for inexperienced performers. It may only take a small look, but done properly, like here, it works wonders. The partnering was excellent too.
That this wasn’t your average youth dance affair became obvious from the start and Marlin Zoutman’s Surreal, which opened the show. To typically atmospheric music by Max Richter and Olafur Arnolds, it’s about finding a relationship with oneself and living in the now, which in turn helps how we relate to others.
I also enjoyed Jamie Jansen’s ’Til there’s nothing left…, a look at mankind’s use and waste of natural resources, and her Calm after the storm, which showed how calm invariably follows chaos, even if it takes a long time, however bad the storm is.
It was far from all serious, though. In a total change of tone, I enjoyed immensely Break Time by Stephanie Adams and Marcus Mabie, that brought a dash of hip hop to the playground. The dancers were having fun and so was I. The energy was infectious. And who could fail to be taken in by the colour and energy of When they come back by Elvis Sibeko, a great mash of contemporary and gumboot?
Step Into Africa 4 was a total delight, and more engaging and appealing than some professional shows I saw. If, and I hope when, they perform on a future Fringe, don’t be put off because they’re a ‘youth company’ (we’re back to labels and expectations again). Do find time to pop along and give them the support they deserve.