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Long-term dance partners split

A VISUALLY stimulating collection of exceptional dances mesmerized a crowded theatre of invited guests at the FNB Dance Umbrella's Gala Evening, who were also there to bid farewell to a long-term partnership with First National Bank.

Vivid works of contemporary dance captivated the audience, with pieces such as Black Man ... White Balls, Go, Gula, Me and You, and Unravelling Carmen performed at the University of Johannesburg's Arts Centre.

On arriving, the guests walked the red carpet to a Bedouin tent. Champagne flowed, complemented by scrumptious food and interesting conversation. There was ample time before the show to mingle and ease into the evening, on Friday, 5 March.

Mixed emotions - laughter and sadness, smiles and frowns - filled the air as the entertainment began with short speeches bidding farewell to the 20-year relationship between FNB and the Dance Umbrella.

"First National Bank has been the partner who has danced with the Dance Umbrella the longest and sadly we say a big thank you and goodbye to them after the 2010 season," said Georgina Thomson, the festival's artistic director. "However, this does not mean that the Dance Umbrella will not continue."

And then it was time for the performances. The eager audience was engrossed, eyes fixed forward as they applauded and cheered.

Black Man ... White Balls was choreographed by Gregory Maqoma of the Vuyani Dance Theatre. It captured his fascination with the roundness and rebound kinetics of balls. It was an appropriate theme, given that this is the year of the FIFA World Cup, for which Johannesburg is a host city.

In the dance, he illustrated how things bounce back into people's lives like a circle and how that recoil affected us.

Gary Gordon choreographed a mature evaluation of his world between motion and stillness entitled Go. He narrated this four-scene production as the five dancers illustrated the story.

Gula, a solo performance by Vincent Mantsoe, was inspired by a bird. The simplicity of his dance was underscored by his accurate movements. It was first seen at the FNB Vita Dance Umbrella in 1992, and brought back this year as a reflection of the long relationship between the two.

Indian-inspired Me and You told a breathtaking tale using authentic music and vibrant coloured costumes. The cast of 10 showed vast dance talent, and got the audience tapping to the melody.

Unravelling Carmen concluded the works chosen to reflect the partnership between the dance festival and the bank. This alternate look at Bizet's Carmen showed the vulnerability beneath the cold, heartless exterior of Carmen, the woman usually presented in ballets and operas, said Dada Masilo, the choreographer.

Derek Carstens, FNB's brand director, said: "The diverse and talented choreographers, dancers and companies that have taken part in the festival over the 22 years of its existence, have together created a legacy of excellence that continues to inspire new and breakthrough artists.

"FNB is proud to associate itself with the creative thinkers and imaginaries that have built this platform for contemporary dance."