South African dancer wows NAC crowd

Published in the Arts section of The Charlatan.
Oct. 31, 2002

There is a frenzied passion about Vincent Sekwati Mantsoe in all of his dance solos, regardless of the mood and tone of the piece. On the opening night of his Ottawa engagement, the NAC Studio was sold out, with everyone there to see the 29-year-old dancer-choreographer from Johannesburg.

As the haunting, elemental strains of African music began to play, the crowd fell into a hushed silence, looking upon the bent-over figure of a large man clad only in white pants. Slow, sinuous, birdlike movements which abruptly turned into frenzied, almost painful movements, characterized his first dance, Phokwane (A Spiritual Tribute), a disturbing visual ode to his family members at different stages in their lives.

Sometimes he was serene, moving as if to wash himself or play with water, but often there was an undercurrent of anguish and he seemed to be trying to get free. He often imitated animal movements, but when he was imitating human beings, his movements were fascinating and at times frightening.

For the second piece, Barena (King), Mantsoe wore a regal orange robe, with a staff and an orange cloth draped over his arm. Sounds of the forest swirled around him as an old man spoke, overlaid with younger, more passionate voices. His movements were wary as he circled the stage, then he flourished his cane like a warrior. It was clear he was portraying a man of some importance.

Rituals seemed to be the central theme of this dance as Mantsoe brandished his staff and yelled. The sweetness of the music often contrasted with the raw anger and disappointment he emanated, and the final scene was fraught with edginess as he walked out on his knees.

The biggest crowd pleaser and most joyous piece was Motswana Hole (Person From Far Away), in which Mantsoe appeared to take great pleasure in saturating himself and the audience members with water from a large bowl in the middle of the stage. He returned time and again to the bowl to wash his feet, creating puddles on the stage as he splashed around in a rhythmic step dance.

In a movement that looked as if Mantsoe was taunting the audience, he picked up several white strips of cloth on the stage, flourishing them in gymnastic style as he playfully flicked water about. In stark contrast to the anger and darkness of the previous two pieces, he was playful and quite comedic. He even sang a couple of lines from “What A Wonderful World,” and in a perfect climax to a daring routine, he leapt in the air, trailing wet cloths behind him in an arc while singing in an African language.

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