Dance Umbrella 2014 and Les Nuits – rave reviews and sold out houses

Dance Umbrella 2014 at the Arts Alive International Festival ended its compact, exciting one-week season on Sunday 7 September.

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A highlight of the Umbrella was undoubtedly Les Nuits (The Nights). It played to (almost) sold out houses and spellbound and mesmerised audiences at both performances at the Joburg Theatre.

“We have finally managed to offer South African audiences the opportunity to watch the kind of work we rarely get to see here in South Africa, said Georgina Thomson, Dance Umbrella’s artistic director. “When I saw the Ballet Preljocaj two years ago in Reunion, I decided that they had to come to Dance Umbrella! Together with Total South Africa and the French Institute of South Africa it became a reality, we made it happen. For me personally, it was a privilege and a wonderfully moving experience to see the Ballet Preljocaj on the Nelson Mandela stage at the Joburg Theatre. ”

Les Nuits (The Nights), was brought to South Africa by the French Institute South Africa and Total South Africa.

“It was a great privilege and a real honour for the French Institute of South Africa and the French Embassy to welcome such a prestigious ballet, “ said Charles Courdent, the deputy director of IFAS, “Angelin Preljocaj is, for experts and the general public alike, one of the most famous choreographers in Europe. This ballet presented to the South African audience within the framework of the Dance Umbrella festival, which we are always delighted to support, far exceeded our expectations! It was a magical and moving moment! The support of Total South Africa was tremendous from the beginning …it is an amazing and rare thing to see companies like Total being so active in supporting arts and culture throughout Africa, and especially in South Africa.”

While the CEO of Total South Africa, Christian des Closières stated that, “As Total South Africa we are committed to supporting the betterment of society-at-large through various CSI projects and also in Arts and Culture. We were privileged to be partners with the French Institute of South Africa in bringing the Ballet Preljocaj who shared with us a piece of their culture. Giving a different meaning to ballet.”

Les Nuits received rave reviews – both audiences and critics were “blown-away” by the ballet, choreographed by the internationally celebrated French choreographer, Angelin Preljocaj and performed by his company, Ballet Preljocaj.

The critics:

Something perfect passed this way: this awe-inspiring 90 minute long work is unspeakably polished in its articulation. This mix of horror with beauty is dangerously mesmerising: it’s almost hypnotic. The dancers are choreographed in a framework which forces you to look with great care at not only the individual performers, but the bigger picture and how the bodies interface, at times resembling a great fleshy insect; at times making you disbelieve your eyes, given the taut movement of bodies against the challenging light.

While the storytelling is often blurred, the hugeness of the visual impact of this work rocks your equilibrium. You leave the space shattered, yet smiling because political and violent associations aside, and overlooking the overweening emotional coldness of the piece, this is as perfect as choreography gets. Robyn Sassen /Arts at Large

Forget about sylphs in silk and tulle, these are smoking-hot sirens in red mini dress and pencil stilettos to match … It is a stunning filmic work where bodies mesh and mould, clash and twine around each other. The work is crafted with absolute clarity and his dancers possess not only technical prowess but present highly individual stages personas within a supremely polished ensemble performance. Tammy Ballantyne / Sunday Independent

Les Nuits – ‘n magiese belewenis: Dit mag wees dat al die planete in lyn was vir hierdie aanbieding, maar wat soos ‘n paal bo water staan is dat die produksie in sy geheel – van die tegniese aspekte tot elke onderlinge dansbeweging – soomloos verloop het. Dit was behaaglik om soveel afgerondheid, deurleefdheid, presisie en selfvertroue op ‘n verhoog te sien. Johan Myburg /

Preljocaj's nights of magnificent dance: inspired by the classic tale of A Thousand and One Nights, French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj's troupe of 18 dancers performed astounding feats in their contribution to the Johannesburg Arts Alive International Festival's Dance Umbrella. Reaping the benefits of Preljocaj's fruitful collaborations, the audience watched the stellar international dancers moving fluidly on a stage designed by Constance Guisset, to the haunting music of Anglo-Egyptian Natacha Atlas and Egyptian producer Samy Bishai, all the while adorned in magnificent costume creations of Tunisian-born couturier Azzedine Alaïa. Sylvia McKeown /Times Live

The audience:

The ballet last night was amazing – wow quite erotic but WOW the fluidity of movements and choreography was awesome. Madeleine Wickens

A friend and I attended the Les Nuits performance last night and were totally blown away. It was beautiful, fluid, spectacular movement, and the music was also so appropriate and ‘good’ just doesn’t do it justice. Thanks for a wonderful night out. Charmaine Nightingale

According to Michelle Constant, CEO of Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) Les Nuits was the highlight of 2014!

Dance Umbrella 2014 which started on August 31 with Stepping Stones featured a total of seven programmes with eight works: Harold George’s Baobab Shadows, Portia Mashigo’s More in then Out of Time, the Ballet Preljocaj’s Les Nuits, Lonely Together, a collaboration between Gregory Maqoma and Roberto Olivan, Luyanda Sidiya’s 7 Pillars and Thabo Rapoo’s’ Tshawe, the acclaimed Cargo: Precious and the final programme Darling, a collaboration between Moya Michael and Igor Shyshko.

Dance Umbrella 2014 extends a thank you to its many partners, without whom the festival would not have been presented: City of Johannesburg, Johannesburg Arts Alive International Festival, French Institute of South Africa, Total South Africa for Angelin Preljocaj and the Gauteng Department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation.

After having been a part of the Johannesburg Arts Alive International Festival for the past three years Dance Umbrella will, next year, be returning to its traditional calendar spot in February/March. Dance Umbrella 2015 will be funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund.