Ancient Riel dance blows minds

“It’s in our blood”

World Performing Arts champions, Die Nuwe Grastoue Trappers, from Wuppertal on the West Coast, took to the stage at the Baxter Dance Festival last week and blew the minds of many in the packed audience.

Feet in red shoes kicked up the dust on the stage of the Baxter theatre last week.

For one night and one night only, the energetic performance of the Wuppertal Riel dancers blew the minds of many in the packed audience. Recently back from winning the World Championship of Performing Arts (WCOPA) in Los Angeles, they made the three-hour journey to showcase their art to a local audience.

For so long hidden in the former German missionary village high up in the West Coast mountains, they have swept into national and international attention.

After winning the Riel dance competition in Paarl in December last year, they went on to Los Angeles where they won the world competition in July this year.

An extraordinary feat for a 42 member production cast ranging from ages seven to 66.

Here was a community that for so long had been considered less. Three hundred years ago, they were shown no regard and often treated as animals. Like so many in the Western Cape and elsewhere, they were a mixture of the KhoiSan and the colonialists with high-cheek bones, shining black or blue eyes, and brown or white skins.

When asked who had trained them one of them said they had not been trained. “It’s in our blood.”

In their performance we saw all of the world’s dances in a single moment.

We sat on the edge of our seats transfixed by the beauty and energy, pulling us into an ancient energy circle.

Commendations should go to Nicolette Moses, Artistic Director and Producer, who eleven years ago initiated the Dance Festival at the Baxter. The Dance Festival this year runs from 8 October showcasing a range of talented South Africans. She has created opportunities for dancers that could never have been imagined 20 years ago.
She deserves to be acknowledged for her work and generously supported.

Further commendations should go to Floris Smith, a chef near Wuppertal who has assisted the group to refine their performance giving them an edge over other groups. There are at least 50 groups competing in this genre annually.

His dedication to the group is once again an example of an advantaged South Africans providing a helping hand to those less resourced.

His decision to insert himself into the performance as a gumboot dancer was however unfortunate since it disturbed the cultural harmony of the group and immediately injected a worker/colonial master relationship and detracted from the ancient KhoiSan feel. It would work better if he remains the facilitator and not a performer.

This performance should become a permanent fixture of our arts scene. Imagine locals and tourists could once a month be entertained to this breathtaking experience that illustrates our historical origins?

They would not be able to do it more regularly because they are school-going learners. Surely the Baxter and the Western Cape government can find a way to raise the funds to make this an important fixture of our public life?