Napac Dance Company was unique. These pages seek to explore what made it so. Use the pull down menu (top right) to navigate, and remember that some photos are slideshows – just use the side arrows.
As you can glean from other pages on this website, I was ballet ballet master and resident choreographer to Performing Art Council of Transvaal (PACT) for five years until, in 1984, I was invited by Rodney Philips and Robert Cross to head a new ballet company in Durban. Rodney, recently appointed general director at Natal Performing Arts Council and Robert, later to succeed him, agreed with me that the great advantage of having dance, opera, drama and orchestra under one roof would facilitate healthy cross-fertilisation between the performing arts. Most importantly, this cross-fertilisation was to help bring a range of performing arts genres to audiences of very different backgrounds.
This was at a time when Nelson Mandela was still in prison, and when many white people subscribed to the ruling apartheid policies. Playwrights had long incorporated protests into their dramas, and as always, comedy often forged a subversive path; however, few productions by any of the four arts councils even touched on the evils of apartheid. While the government funded superb new theatres around the country, most African people lived in appalling conditions. They, of course, had their own vibrant culture – could their cultures ever integrate successfully with those of Europe? Why would an African want these luxuries? Perhaps the new Natal Playhouse complex in the port city and seaside holiday destination of Durban might provide answers?
When restored and amalgamated with what had been the Prince’s cinema, the Natal Playhouse would regain its former renown as a kind of pleasure palace; the main building’s mock Tudor facade and star-spangled auditorium ceiling, alongside the newly refurbished drama theatre, with the grotesque Mr Punch sculpture welcoming patrons, would speak to people from all backgrounds. Perhaps their skin colours would be of every hue – no longer predominantly white? There was a strong feeling in the Natal arts community that Napac could and should become a strong force for social change.
The so-called golden years of South African theatre occurred immediately before Nationalist rule ended. I imagine that the minds of many theatre workers from that era harbour feelings of guilt that their salaries were paid from funds provided by an inhumane regime. The social context of theatre life in that era is a huge subject for exploration, and is a subject for extensive studies; but here you will find simply a plain account of the Durban dance entertainment scene during the years 1985-1990.
This website is intended to celebrate the attempts at making theatre dance (and the other performing arts) important in spectators’ lives. I include an admittedly partisan selection of the records of NDC productions that I have to hand, and they provide a chronicle of the company’s extraordinary technical and artistic progression. Pat Durham has contributed several photos and Val Adamson, Napac’s photographer, has kindly given the product her blessing. There are the inevitable gaps, which I hope will, eventually, be filled.
Please use the dropdown menu to navigate from year to year and find other features that may be of interest. If you were associated with Napac – as a dancer, a technician, a wardrobe person, musician, actor, singer, administrator or audience member, please contribute your memories to this site. You can leave your name and email below and I will get back to you. I hope that the chronicle and photos will help jog memories, be they happy, scary, sad or, as in so many cases, downright hilarious!