Sadler’s Wells, London
October 28, 2023
Katlehong is a large township southeast of Johannesburg. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s it was a pretty lawless area seething with political turmoil as Inkatha and the ANC fought for leadership of the new South Africa. Dance was a way to harness the energy into a good place and Via Katlehong was formed in 1992 by four street dancers.
Watching this second visit of the company the vibrant dance talent is well in evidence as is the enthusiasm of the dancers. Their base technique is pantsula, that infectious light-footed dance style which has its roots in the dusty township streets.
Via Injabulo was formed of two choreographies: førm inførms by Marco Da Silva Ferreira and Emaphakathini by Amala Dianor. Emaphakathini has a party atmosphere with a set comprising a brightly lit bar and the dancers bringing their own cool boxers in case stocks run low! The men open on a brilliant display of pantsula with liquid knees and rhythmic hips taken at breathtaking speed. They are joined by the women including Thulisile Binda who proved ‘anything you can do, I can do better!’
The style has developed to include virtuosic street moves and I suspect Dianor’s choreography was boosted by a fair bit of dancer improvisation. Their spontaneity and obvious enjoyment made compulsive viewing aided by music from Awir Leon. There were quiet moments that I felt could have better exploited the dancers’ ease of communication and sense of comedy to introduce some narrative interchange. However, the piece was a winner with the audience.
Ferreira’s førm inførms, which opened the show, has a tentative start as dancers move slowly in the gloom. Stretching out and deep breathing create some neat comedy moments and when the music comes, it is a blast. Written by Jonathan Uliel Saldanha, it’s heavy on the brass, with a thumping bass rhythm and accompanied by pink neon lights.
White dance mats became part of the action. First the bright yellow central band is stripped away before the dancers peel the mats back, revealing a black underside in a huge dark triangle creating strange divisions on stage. Despite a good dose of pantsula, the choreography also includes contemporary dance and closes on a vibrant tap dance solo by one of the men. The warmth of the dance came at a good time to counter a damp and increasingly dark London.