South Africa

Review from Artslink

Leon van Nierop
01/17/2014 11:00:34

I cannot remember when last I have enjoyed a production this much.

Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks (the title explains the main narrative) came as a total and delightful surprise with its warm, engaging story, brilliant one-liners and life-affirming characters that makes instantly you fall in love with them.

Lily Harrison (Judy Ditchfield) hires a dance instructor, Michael Minetti, (José Domingos) to teach her to dance. But what actually happens is that these characters teach each other about life, love, music and mortality while coming to terms with frustrations, the difficulties of life and old problems. As the “lessons” progress, so does our knowledge of these two lonely people who have one thing in common: they love life – not necessarily the one given to them, but what they are forced to make out of it and what they gain from each other’s experiences.

There is electricity and a forceful vibe between these two people as they argue, laugh, dance, reprimand each other, philosophy and display a wicked sense of humour with some of the most illuminating and original one-liners of the year as Richard Alfieri’s script sparkles with a deft insight into life and love. Giving away more of the characters’ secrets would be spoiling the experience. Fact of the matter is one is subjected to a rollercoaster of life, symbolised by the six different forms of dancing which reflects their lives, loves and feelings in a stylish, sparkling and hugely entertaining way.

Both Judy Ditchfield and José Domingos give brilliant, nuanced, funny and poignant performances. And can these two dance! They literally lift the audience out of their seats and take them on an enchanting journey that will instantly remove any New Year’s blues you might still be suffering from. It is outrageously funny, but also heartbreaking, touching and illuminating at the same time.

Greg Homann’s direction is fluid, efficient and absorbing. And the set design creates a superb feeling of space and life, especially with its effective lighting.

See this production at all costs. It is eloquent, appealing and intelligent - the perfect way to spend a remarkable evening in the theatre.

Review The dance of caustic humor

Acerbic humour is a difficult art to perfect, but at least one piece of theatre currently running has got it right. By LESLEY STONES.

Acerbic humour isn’t easy. Get it wrong, and your witty repartee served with cut and thrust precision leaves the victim reeling, mortally wounded with dismay.

I know this from experience, as a former Brit whose English humour often cuts too deeply into softer skinned South Africans.

So just imagine being a caustic screaming queen from tough-talking New York, with a wicked tongue that knows no boundaries. Stay focused, people, I’m still talking about the comedy, you over-imaginative sluts!

Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks is a brilliant piece of theatre that richly rewards any audience that really cares about words. Most plays have words, of course, but the joy of this piece by Richard Alfieri lies in savouring the quips and insults, arguments and anecdotes traded between its two characters.

It’s the traditional format of two disparate characters clashing then warming to each other to both feel enriched by the experience.

Both are acerbic and uncompromising in their own way. Judy Ditchfield is fabulous as Lily, an elderly but sprightly woman living alone in Florida. She craves company so much that she pays for private dance lessons, not because she needs the lessons, but because she needs a partner. She fills the role with grace and dignity balanced by a feistiness that does justice to her formidable role.

José Domingos as the dance instructor Michael is even better, though it’s a close call as the two really make an excellent pair of mismatched characters. Domingos camps it up delightfully, yet shows the wounded heart once Lily bashes away at his flamboyant but brittle veneer.

Both characters have some wonderful lines that see the audience laughing heartily, punctuated by the occasional gasp as we wonder whether this time one of them has crossed the line where banter turns entirely into vicious bitchiness. Society in general gets a drubbing too, with social comments scattered liberally, including the little gem that ‘beautiful people can get through life without any social skills.’

Other lovely moments come when the banter ceases and Domingos switches into his professional patter, explaining the lascivious nature of the tango or swing they are about to perform.

The script manages to sustain its high level of humour throughout, never flagging in its pace. Likewise director Greg Homann has whipped a passionate performance from his actors, with their fiery clashes nuanced by sadder moments as the two souls stop to comfort or console the other.

For all the intelligent insults and punchy nuggets of wisdom, it’s also a charming play that leaves a warm feeling deep inside.

As the six weeks roll on Lily inevitably grows a little frail, and as the second half began I felt nervous that all would not end well. Oddly, it’s a pleasure to feel that way, making you realised you care deeply about these characters after only an hour in their presence. As the ending nears, lashings of compassion, trust and understanding emerge, although it never gets schmaltzy or sentimental.

The set is lovely, with large opaque windows giving the illusion of a penthouse view, and tasteful furniture befitting a woman of substance.

The dancing also deserves a round of applause. I don’t know how much they already knew and how much choreographer Brandon Eilers Le Riche had to teach them, but the overall result is like stirring snippets of Come Dancing into a comedy show.

They move superbly, with a flair and style that adds a lovely touch of elegance and authenticity.