The African Crossroads programme in this year’s Dance Umbrella festival is a showcase for new dance from Africa. However, the opening night featured a more familiar visitor: South African Vincent Mantsoe, whose piece Ebhofolo (This Madness) reminds you why Umbrella keeps inviting him back: he is a magnetic soloist. Even at the start, as he emerges from the shadows, you sense the contained power of his presence. When he moves, he is compelling: nervy twitches cut across the sweeps of his arms; feather-light steps alternate with big, flinging jumps.
The set is based on traditional designs of African Ndebele homesteads, but you don’t need to know that: it’s enough just to watch and listen. The music – a mixture of Persian chants – imparts both a hypnotic ambience and, in this African setting, a jolt of dislocation. This is echoed by Mantsoe, whose body becomes a conduit for disparate, sometimes desperate forces: a surge of striding anger, a tremor of crouched fear. Increasingly, too, he appears to be female: fragments of belly dances ripple through his hips; when he finally exits, haunches wrapped in cloth and balancing a block on his head, he looks like a washerwoman or water carrier.
Is Mantsoe housed somewhere in that body? If so, he is unsettled, not at home, and just one presence among many. It is to his credit as a dancer that such multiplicity is always exact, never messy.