02 September 2010

In Praise of the Holy Place

JOMBA! 2010 Artistic Director Lliane Loots's Opening Night Speech

It is always my great joy and delight to stand before you at the opening of the Centre for Creative Arts’s JOMBA! festival. It is always a personal opportunity for me to be reminded of what my theatre guru Jerzy Grotowski called the ‘great service of theatre’ - of being reminded that as (what Grotowski called) ‘holy’ theatre makers and theatre practitioners our greatest ‘gift’ is to make our work as if it were a service to our community.
In my ever painful recognition of a changing political landscape and how I may now be needed to mindfully find ways to serve my community and my nation, I have come to realise that perhaps this is it.

I am learning to abandon the grand narratives of my history that write us and writes others – often without permission or indeed truth - to seek a more intimate and personal agency that honours a community of dancers and dance makers, dance writers and journalists, and cultural organisations that are fighting to continue to be the conscience of our nation – no matter what.

So I want to take the opportunity tonight to deeply value the people that I work with and to acknowledge (thanks to Grotowski’s analogy) their political and social divinity.The background to this is a post-FIFA World Cup dis-ease and questioning. While I, like any good South African watched with delight and joy as we all cheered our team onward and felt the glory of a country so in need of a good party, but I was also left pondering how the art forms I love so much always lands up being the ‘show’ before the main event. When is art enough on it own and not simply of value when used to keep people entertained while they wait for the kick off whistle?
Everybody loves to dance, in fact, we are a nation of culturally hybrid dancers, from night club moves, to the ngoma stamp, to the bells of Kathak, to contemporary hip-hop beats. One could argue that more of us dance than play soccer. In fact women are rather good at it so we don’t really need to be relegated to our own leagues that never get funded. In fact, everyone I know has some acceptable dance move that they are happy to show off.

My primary dis-ease is the dismay that the South African Department of Arts and Culture gave over 59 million rand (in an already hugely downsized annual arts budget) to cultural activities to support (SUPPORT!) our South African FIFA World Cup. Arts and Culture Minister Xingwana proudly declaimed this figure heralding the “Fly the Flag for Football Campaign” as one of the most successful.

The “Fly the Flag” campaign was created, as the DAC web-site proudly states, in order “to promote patriotism and our national identity”. Hey I love our flag, I’m happy for some of the money to be used to “promote patriotism” but fifty nine million?

Why should already beleaguered funds from Arts and Culture be spent on this? Why is Arts and Culture funding - intended for the creation of art, performance, dance and music - being spent to support soccer, and in this instance a particularly pernicious group of global elites who laid claim to South African like it was colonial territory that they were discovering.

Strangely enough I learnt to fly my flag in 1994 – long before FIFA hit our shores and indeed long before we felt it appropriate to spend 59 million rand of Arts and Culture funding, teaching South African’s how to do it.

The other socially acceptable space my art form of dance is increasingly inhabiting is the realm of endless reality television shows like “So you think you can dance?” – where, like soccer, we are encourage to have a favourite, to find the ‘best’, to have a winner …

I come back to this stage and to this JOMBA! festival where I want to acknowledge the value and worth of us fighting (as flag waving South Africans) for the deep deep worth of a cultural space that holds dance in this way; neither as a precursor or side-show to another more important event (be this political rally or a soccer match), nor as a competition that only one eventually wins.

I want to honour the Centre for Creative Arts for holding JOMBA! with careful hands that allows all manifestations of critical contemporary dance making to inhabit this two week platform that does not choose a winner at the end, and that finds ways to honour the deeply painful and yet holy craft that goes into making dance theatre – all forms of it. That allows for individual and differing authentic critical voices to speak with the body - in a way that really understands this as ‘community service’.

I ask you, our audience - our most essential and prime relationship – to come and spend time at as many of the performances as possible; not to find ‘the best’ but to glory in different voices; dance voices that remind us why diversity is indeed true wealth!

Our festival programme features familiar friends to JOMBA! like the inimitable MOVING INTO DANCE MOPHATONG and the much heralded collaboration with spoken word poet Lebo Mashile and choreographer Sylvia Glaser. Sello Pesa returns to JOMBA! with his own brand of site-specific dance theatre.

And on the international front we welcome Swiss guest FOOFWA D’IMODILITE, our brothers Kenji and Norton and Karbardock crew from our sister country Reunion. And from me a very special welcome to Dutch guests Daniel and Rodney who have been with us for three weeks already creating collaborative dance work that will explode all our myths and assumptions around street dance and its place on a contemporary dance platform. I have been humbled by your openness to us and the gentle way in which you have come not only as teachers but also as friends.

JOMBA! is also proud to be part of supporting local dance makers and so tonight you will get to see the 3 New Works commissioned by JOMBA! 2010 – these are Sifiso Majola, Vusi Makanya and Desire Davids. All 3 are locally based dance makers who premier work tonight. We remain very excited by this platform.

JOMBA! also hosts its annual FRINGE – and open platform for up and coming dance makers, our YOUTH FRINGE which is the delight of seeing hundreds of young dancers moving and dancing together - a real reason to wave the flag!

Our very special guest this year is veteran arts journalist Adrienne Sichel, who has not only been a personal friend and mentor to me, but whose decades of theatre journalism have profoundly changed the way in which we read and think dance in South Africa. Her compassion and care for dancers, her willingness to travel far and wide to support and witness our work, has humbled the dance community. She comes to JOMBA! as host of our Dance Writing Residency that will produce two JOMBA! newspapers over the festival, and a daily Blog and on-line newspaper of reviews and opinions – make sure you google the CCA web-site and follow the prompts to JOMBA! KHULUMA.

Also a first for JOMBA! 2010 is our collaboration with the Durban Art Gallery and co-production of RED EYE JOMBA! on Friday the 3rd of September. My gracious thanks to Jenny Stretton for so openly entertaining the idea and to David Gouldie for his curatorial vision in making it happen. And indeed the Muncipality of Ethekwini for realizing the cultural worth of taking back the streets of our beloved city for arts and culture.

I end by paying my respects to all who have made this festival possible; who have served their community by being the eyes, ears, hands and technical feet of what we do:

• Clare Craighead, Wesley Maherry and the JOMBA! crew,
• The Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre,
• The quite whirlwind presence of Maggie Reddy and the extra-ordinary staff of the Centre for Creative Arts whose love for what they do, shines through onto all of us.
• To Val Adamson for being able to so evocatively capture on film the ephemerality of what we do,
• To Sharelene Versfeld for being a dream publicist and for coming to sit in on rehearsals to really understand what we do!
• To Natasha Hosken for helping facilitate our dance development residency … and to all the BBOYZ and hip-hoppers who are changing the face of JOMBA! …

Finally a huge but gracious thanks to our funders:
• Principle funder National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund
• National Arts Council of South Africa
• ProHelvetia Arts Council of Switzerland
• Karbardock and Municipality of le Port in Reunion
• Durban Art Gallery
• City of Durban
• and HIVOS

I welcome eThekwini Municipality Deputy Mayor, Councillor Logie Naidoo, I welcome consular representatives and members of UKZN executive …

But mostly I end by welcoming you all tonight into this holy place; the theatre - and into an artistic, cultural and political space of respect and honour – the essence of what I hope JOMBA! is, and will continue to fight for.

Delivered at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, UKZN, Durban, September 1, 2010

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Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience