Slick Underground Dance Theatre show

ONE of the worst things a performance company can be is formulaic. It’s a mistake that Underground Dance Theatre never makes.

Their latest work, Pulp, a dance-theatre parody of film noir reminiscent of the likes of Sin City and Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, is a case in point. And the drama begins with the publicity photographs that provide just the right amount of intrigue to encourage theatre fans to book to see it (now at the Rosebank Theatre until July 16 and at the Galloway Theatre from July 20 to 23).

It’s surprising how many artists, producers and directors continue to dabble in “we’ve-seen-this-before” territory, and wonder why their projects fall short of their goals.

Developing audiences can certainly be sustained through a basic reference language, be it verbal or physical, but creatives must realise the importance of finding those special qualities that translate into box office success. In the case of Underground Dance Theatre, established in 2010 by “a collective of artists with the intention to explore new performance styles and create progressive, entertaining works that are relevant to contemporary SA”, Pulp is evidence of their approach that produces slick, professional, cleverly thought through and meticulously rehearsed performances. And they’ve reinvented themselves slightly in this one.

Steven van Wyk has revealed yet another skill – that of scriptwriter – while Thalia Laric’s vampish persona as the femme fatale in heavy makeup and high heels was a fascinating contrast to her usual presentation as the barefoot “queen of contact improvisation”.

The pair hasn’t performed together since 2012, traditionally channelling their creative power as a choreographic duo into new and award-winning works for the company. Accolades accumulated so far include a Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival and a kykNET Fiesta for Best Dance Production for Skoonveld; an Ovation Award and kykNET Fiesta for Keepsake Minus 3 and the 2015 kykNET Fiesta for Most Groundbreaking Production for Askoop.

Van Wyk was nominated for a Fleur du Cap for his role as Best Actor in a Musical in Singin’ in the Rain while Laric was seen most recently in Nicola Elliott’s Run! and in numerous shows with First Physical Theatre. Cilna Katzke, a regular performer with the group, has also appeared in Sean Bovim’s Tango Nights, iKapa’s Stadium and productions with CT City Ballet.

All three presented consistent dramatic ability to portray their respective roles in a whodunnit involving private eye Joe, uber-housewife Patty and potential murderer Valda. Designed to be adapted for performance in a very intimate space, none shied away from making eye contact with the audience, their proximity placing little obvious pressure on their ability to stay in character or execute their deceptively simple choreography. That alone takes immense skill and focus – one missed step or misalignment could be a disaster.

The costumes by Hilette Stapelberg (Handspring Puppet Company; Arende; Fleur du Cap winner for The Tragedy of Richard III) and voiceover by Richard Wright (Black Sails) add the finishing touches to a piece well worth seeing. The script was key to setting the scene for a degree of unpredictability that together with the acting and dancing generated more than a few laughs and held the audience’s attention right to the end. Kudos indeed.

- Debbie Hathaway

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