What is dance really? Not Dance Moms or what you do at prom, but the real physicality of it. African Cypher completely answers this question; not through a highbrow analysis of each component, but with just plain movement. The documentary is about isiPantsula and sBhujwaI, two young dancers from South Africa. But even though the focus is on these two and their journey, there’s so much more. The story explores South African Street dance, and the explosion of culture that comes with it. There’s a sense of respect and honor in the dance that is called a complex, convoluted underworld. The movement is all about ritual, celebration, counsel, and storytelling, and the group that is created over dance is a true community. The extraordinary duo of isiPantsula and sBhujwaI leads the viewer throughout the documentary. But on the way we meet different dancers, people, and styles, a mass of diversity in a somewhat small group. Director Bryan Little builds up to the final performance by the duo, but integrates this taste of differences and styles in an amazing way.
One of my favorite aspects of the dancing was the freshness and creativity involved. They use each other as props and foundations, rocks as balances, and anything else they can get their hands on. The movement never gets old or bland because each time the duo manages to make it new and exciting. You don’t have to appreciate a deep concept or subplot to enjoy this documentary, because the dance in itself is thrilling. You get to watch performances of strength and creativity but also get the story of the dancers and their culture. They dance to move and in the words of Mada Sthembiso, “I dance as if I have a gun to my head.” This documentary really should not be missed. It’s the ultimate cinematic experience and depicts at least one side of dance, portraying the real physicality involved in movement.
Sorry! You missed your chance to see The African Cypher at SIFF 2013, but check out these other great SIFF films!