Dance is supposed to leave something behind. After a performance is long over, I think back to the images of moving bodies that remain etched in my mind. So it is after more than three weeks since the performance of “Gatekeeper” by “The First Rain Dance Company” that I write my reflections on the performance.
I remember seeing the dance open on the proscenium stage. People at different spaces doing different things. A woman at the fore turns one leg and reaching forward to go around while her back leg tails in the air behind her. A young ballerina? A man sleeps, another woman stomps backwards furiously and comes down to the hit the ground with her fists, while another lets her chest jut to the floor while her back legs goes up like a scorpions tail. All the while a tall man walks around these characters, enclosing them in a rectangle of a sand trail along his path. What is going on? Then one by one, starting with the ballerina, they begin to walk with long legs, plodding each of slowly in front of the other. Very much aerial, they move like a line of slender giraffes to one corner of the stage. I guess this animalistic feelings unites these diverse characters, as well as there black roman soldier style skirts and red ribbon around one leg.
The musical accompaniment to this opening section is a mere array of sounds, clicks, whines and myriad of other articulations of the mouth, by Lize Ehlers. Quite original and unheard of in what was meant to be a dance performance at the National Theatre. That is why I say it seemed the dancers were doing something and I would have loved to see that story develop. Instead, what followed was a series of dances to set musical accompaniments, where it was evident they were dancing. I saw pyramidal formations, of dancers shift through space in hops, skits and slides typical of modern dance. Somehow it evoked the dances of Jerome Robbins in West Side story, and I wonder whether the choreographer of Gate Keeper, Hamisch Olivier, found inspiration in Robbins. The only thing that reminded me of that captivating opening was the way things were often done in series. They would do a movement, like rolling backwards, one by one. And I noticed differences – while some rolled with long legs end in feet as sharp as still, others had softly bent knees and relaxed feet. Why such a difference? Was there a meaning to these differences, or where the dancers just performing it differently? Did some just loose their balance on leg before the others or did Olivier want us to notice the differences in how long they held one foot up their behind the other knee, before coming down? Beats me.
It seems with each piece of music, the dances attempted to show something different. They can follow the music, even if means stomping their heels close to the ground to keep with the time and languidly stepping in a zig-zag pattern that ballerinas would do in lightning speed. There were jumps, some of them high with jagged legs curving behind the back of the dancer. But I have seen people jump higher and break the stillness of the air at the top. In short, I’ve been there, seen that. What is that this company, that aims to integrate contemporary dance with Namibian dance forms, brought for me? In the ending, I see a return of the animalistic sense, where some dances creep away while others walk with those long giraffe like steps. And the last dancer to leave caught my eye as she darted her head from one side to the other, her writs limp and hands held as paws, like some mouse-like creature, before running of stage. Here was something intriguing. I would have like to have seen it developed along the lines of Netherland Dance Theatre’s “Journey to the Stomping Ground” where the dancers mimicked different animal movements inspired by Australian aboriginal dances. I think that would have been interesting for the director of the French Cultural Center, who commissioned Olivier to create “Gatekeeper” as a Namibian contemporary dance work. I doubt he would want to see a replica or mediocre imitation of contemporary dance of Europe or the Americas. After all, the aim of French funding is to develop local art for the purpose of bringing local and world audiences something unique. I did see something unique in that performance and that is what I have chosen to remember.
“Gatekeeper” performed at the National Theatre of Namibia show titled “Fractures” on December 6th, Windhoek, Namibia