Body's whiplash into motion sjamboked by internal rhythms. Then the same limbs and torsos shake the ground with one legged toyi toyi's.
Sitting serenely in the Vuyani Dance Theatre studio, scrutinising each movement at Dance Space in Newtown, is Luyanda Sidiya (31) the perpetrator of this surreptitious action. Political tyranny isn't exactly easy choreographic fodder but that hasn't stopped this dance maker from plunging into this murky territory.
For Dominion, his 10th work, Sidiya is tackling issues of power in a local as well as universal sense. Veronica Sham's costumes are, he shows me, inspired by imagery he has provided generated by Adolf Hitler, Muammar Gadhafi and Robert Mugabe.
This work for 10 dancers is based on research he conducted in the winter of 2011 travelling around the Eastern Cape with VDT's Xolisile Bongwana, who is from Port Elizabeth. What shocked the Gautenger, who went as far as Tsolo, was the glaring disparity between the leaders in their Land Rovers and the impoverished masses. "I was so sad," he explains quietly "I saw another world. Coming from Joburg I felt I was in a totally different country."
Does this mean Dominion is depressing? "It is the rise and fall of the foolish man. Lighting designer Oliver Hauser said that after seeing my choreography. My father was in the 1960 Sharpeville massacre. Then I saw what happened at Marikana last year. Who are we fooling? As artists we have to say 'this is who we are' just as Mirriam Makeba went to the United Nations and spoke up during apartheid. What role are we playing as artists today?"
Luyanda Sidiya's answer to this question is evident in Dominion which has challenged him to steer away from the traditional dance fuelled lyricism of Umnikelo (2011). The vocabulary and the tone appear to be different which is exactly what he has been striving for while aware of the dangers of being didactic and literal.
Both works share a double-bill at the Soweto Theatre from May 29 to June 8 which ushers in a whole new era for VDT Gregory Maqoma's internationally renowned company is due to relocate to his birth place of Soweto. But first Dominion will preview in The Wits Theatre at the SANAA Festival on Saturday, Africa Day.
Sidiya's not a Sowetan. He was born and grew up in Sebokeng where he now lives with his dancer-teacher wife Thoko Sekganye (whom he met at Moving into Dance Mophatong) and two daughters aged 4 and 7. Do they dance? The proud father chuckles as he recounts how they dismiss their parents' African contemporary dancing as they are obsessed with ballet.
He started out as a traditional dancer –"it fulfilled my spirit". "At home there were challenges. My friends were hijackers. We would buy bullets at the hostels. I have a praying mom," he muses." They called us the Sarafina boys. That was an insult we weren't doing Sarafina." What they did dance with relish, step by step, was Gibson Kente choreography, overalls, dustbins and all, which they called modern dance.
His first taste of contemporary theatre dance was in 1995 at The Dance Factory with the late Wendy David who played a video of Vincent Mantsoe's famous solo Gula. "He was amazing. I thought he was a man from the jungle who turned into a bird. I didn't know I was seeing choreography. I thought it was a style."
All that changed forever when the 18 year old (who matriculated at 16), who was six months short of qualifying as a boilermaker, went to audition for the 2001 MIDM teachers training course. That took some guts because two years before he failed the audition for MIDM's Expo 99 tour.
His graduation solo The Worshipper was seen at the FNB Dance Umbrella signalling that this gifted dancer could make also make inspired dances. Having danced with the Moving Into Dance Company the Sidiyas went to the UK to Ace Dance and Music for three years where Luyanda created Kokuma. Ace has commissioned him to create a work in 2014.
A decade ago he performed Mantsoe's Gula at Finland's Kuopio Dance Festival. Festival director Jorma Uotinen re-connected on Facebook and was so taken with Umnikelo, that straight after the Soweto season VDT leaves for Finland with a double-bill (with Maqoma's Mayhem), where Sidiya will also premiere Makwande, his new solo, as well as giving a two-day workshop. The man whose dreams shine through his soulful eyes takes all this accomplishment in his creative stride - without forgetting where he comes from. (This edited preview of Dominion appeared in an Mzansi Moves column in The Star Tonight in May 2013)
In performance Dominion reveals a sharp political and conceptual intelligence at play. The choreography, accompanied by a live, original, music score, is anchored in a cultural knowledge system which is transposed into a dynamic contemporary movement vernacular (incorporating a deconstructed toyi-toyi).
Researched in the Eastern Cape Dominion, a portrait of political tyranny with universal resonances is also highly critical of the current political status quo (without being didactic). This ensemble work, which shared a double-bill with Sidiya's Umnikelo, at Dance Umbrella @ Arts Alive, in September 2013, brought capacity young audiences to its feet in the Market Theatre cheering in recognition and acknowledgement.
To re-cap: In 2013 Dominion was performed as Dominion @ Soweto Theatre and at Dance Umbrella @ Arts Alive – Celebrating 25 Years of Contemporary Dance. After appearing at Jomba! 2014 in March 2015 Dominion tours, as a double bill with Umnikelo, to a Canadian dance festival in Toronto.
Update on Luyanda Sidiya:
- On April 29, 2014, at the world premiere of Full Moon (which he co-choreographed with Gregory Maqoma) Sidiya, the artistic assistant to Gregory Maqoma, became Vuyani Dance Company's Artistic Director (with Maqoma taking up the position of Executive Director). At this event in The Mandela, at the Joburg Theatre, the 15 year old Vuyani Dance Theatre gave birth to its new "corporatized entity" the Vuyani Dance Company.
- On September 4 and 5, 2014 at Dance Umbrella @ Arts Alive, Vuyani Dance Theatre premieres Sidiya's Seven Pillars, at The Wits Theatre, in a double-bill with Thabo Rapoo's Tshawe
- On October 14 and 15, 2014, Sidiya's celebrated Afro-fusion work Umnikelo, rooted in Xhosa tradition, has its American premiere at the prestigious Fall For Dance Festival, at City Centre, in New York City. The Johannesburg company making its US debut (although Maqoma has toured there as a soloist) will be sharing a programme with the iconic Trisha Brown Dance company and two other companies.
- Negotiations are underway for Full Moon to tour to China. From Sebokeng to Manhattan, Beijing and Shanghai – no small feat for pioneering feet.