Athletic articulation of the foot

Published in Cape Times on 15 November 2016

Acclaimed South African dancer/choreographer Andrea Schermoly returns from abroad to create new work for the Cape Dance Company writes DEBBIE HATHWAY

THE youthful physique and visage of Andrea Giselle Schermoly belie both the ability and experience of the latest artist to be invited to choreograph work for Debbie Turner’s Cape Dance Company. The commissioned piece is currently being workshopped for the December season, SacredSpace, which opens at Artscape on 3 December.

Now based in Los Angeles, Schermoly has established herself as a choreographer for stage and film, and is developing her acting skills with a view to getting more involved in theatre. After spending much of her professional career dancing with the world-renowned Dutch company NDT, Schermoly is selective about the performance requests she accepts after recurring ankle injuries and multiple surgeries eventually forced her to pursue alternative freelance endeavours.

This year has been a big year for her so far, having celebrated the screening of In Passing, a dance film she directed and choreographed for the Ashley Bouder Project and subsequently was selected for the San Francisco Dance Film Festival. She’s also featured in Mandela’s Dancers: Oral Histories of Program Participants and Organizers by Rodreguez King-Dorset, which chronicles the experiences of 22 South African dancers who benefited from a scholarship programme started by Anya Sainsbury and funded by The Linbury Trust in London in the late nineties. The late Nelson Mandela was patron of the programme. It’s been 12 years since she was invited to choreograph work for a local company, the last occasion being for Martin Schonberg’s Ballet Theatre Afrikan in Johannesburg in 2004.

Schermoly trained at the National School of the Arts in South Africa and competed around the world as a member of the South African Olympic Rhythmic Gymnastics Team before moving to London to complete her dance training at Rambert Ballet and Contemporary School and The Royal Ballet School. She danced professionally with Boston Ballet and Nederlandse Dans Teater (NDT and NDT 2) and has choreographed work for Louisville Ballet, Grand Rapids Ballet and Kansas City Ballet, Festival Ballet Theater among others.

She won the Outstanding Choreographer award in 2012 and 2013 at the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) and in 2014 won the Emerging Choreographer award – a grant to choreograph for YAGP’s 15th anniversary gala that year on dancers Maria Kochetkova (principal San Francisco Ballet) and Joaquin de Luz (principal New York City Ballet).

The new work, titled CliffNotes, opens with what promises to be a captivating sequence by the ensemble performed to Tom Waits’ evocative Yesterday Is Here. Schermoly says she’s working with eight pieces of music, the most she’s ever used for a ballet.

“I usually have one piece that plays right through, a composition created for me, or something I’ve been listening to for a long time,” she says. But the varied soundtrack suits her decision to present this work as vignettes, “bubbles of memories” as she calls it of life as an immigrant, living in different countries, the search for belonging and often ultimate displacement we all feel in life, particularly those not living in their home nations.

Because Schermoly has made a lot of work on ballet dancers, her style often looks more balletic, but she favours more grounded, “guttural” work. Waits’ song sets it up perfectly.

“While my work is still rooted in the classical genre – I like finesse, detail, precision, flexibility, articulation of the foot – I also like the juxtaposition of heaviness and looseness that comes with contemporary dance.”
Featured artists in this season include Ipeleng Merafe, Celeste Botha, Marlin Zoutman, Carmen Lotz, Thamsanqa Njoko, Nathan Bartman, Olivia Parfitt, Ciara Baldwin, Gemma Trehearn, Given Mkhize and a supporting cast of up-and-coming dancers.

This group represents the ideal combination of classical and contemporary prowess. “It’s like having two companies in one,” says Schermoly. “They’re maniac movers.”

They have to be if they want to perform for Cape Dance Company. Artistic director Debbie Turner demands nothing but the best from her dancers (many of whom owe international contracts to her training regime) and choreographers alike.

José Agudo’s A Thousand Shepherds will be on the bill again, reprised by popular demand. Starring Nathan Bartman, it’s the kind of piece that demands more than one viewing so stirring is its content. It gets better and better with every presentation.

Enemy Behind the Gates is a popular repertory piece choreographed by Christopher L Huggins and once again features the largest group of dancers ever cast in this ballet.

The double-volume theatre space will be opened up to showcase the athletic, technical and artistic abilities of the 50 dancers – trademark qualities of a company that never fails to set the stage alight.

Lighting for SacredSpace is by the award-winning designer Wilhelm Disbergen. The season is made possible with support from the National Arts Council, Fruit and Veg City and Business and Arts South Africa.

SacredSpace runs at Artscape Theatre from December 3 to 10 at 8pm with a matinee on 10 December at 2.30pm. Book: 021 4217695. or Computicket.

Photograph: Helena Fagan

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