03 September 2014

JOMBA!’s open platforms confirm that dance is flourishing in KZN

By Lliane Loots

SIYAKHULA Dance Project
Every year JOMBA! offers two distinct open platforms for the promotion of developing dance and dancers. The first of which, the JOMBA! Youth Fringe, was held on Sunday the 31st August in UKZN’s Open Air Theatre. As I sat in this rather sublime outdoor venue, a type of ancient Greek amphitheatre surrounded by the lush green of Durban’s tropical vegetation, I was hit with how right this space was for such an event. Surrounded by over 800 KZN based young dancers, their teachers/choreographers and their families, I felt like I was part of something really significant.

With all the on-going political rhetoric about “nation building”, I was struck that actually it is via the arts that any kind of social cohesion can be created. Mostly what struck me, as we watched over 17 youth dance groups from all over KZN perform, was the incredible support that the youth gave each other. No matter the level of the dance, the audience cheered exuberantly for each other in what turned out to be a 2hour programme. The sheer ability of a young audience to offer this level of support and encouragement to their fellow performs, makes me think that perhaps we are doing something right after all. And I am reminded why arts education is so vital – outside of the competitive paradigm of sport (for example), dance and the arts asks us to find a more social support system that does not declare who won, but rather encourages participation and community.

Of particular note on the JOMBA! Youth Fringe was the Umlazi based boys group called HHEHSE NSIZWA which saw about 30 young boys (aged between 8 and 18yrs) eloquently perform a type of rites of passage ritual. Choreographed by Sifiso Majola, this work offered a focused and technically eloquent dance work that offers the promise of some really good dance training going on in Durban.

The second open platform hosted by JOMBA! was the much anticipated JOMBA! Fringe which happened on Monday 1 September at the Sneddon Theatre. Every year JOMBA! places an open call to young up and coming and established dance makers to submit applications for inclusion. It is a fiercely sought after space to show work and 8 works were selected from almost 40 applications. The number of applications grow every year and makes one realise how vital a platform JOMBA! has become to support professional space to showcase new dance work. These spaces need defending and are in need of very careful support!

This year’s JOMBA! FRINGE offered a buffet of dance work that heralded some important new voices in dance making. Most controversial, was Finch Thusi’s solo work (untitled) that seem to mediate the fluid line between performance art and dance. In a bold and very vulnerable encounter, Thusi shrouds his naked body in a transparent cloth that both hides and also reveals. Declaring how much he loves his body, a rambling monologue finally culminated in a painful portrait of self-loathing that is finally echoed with a traditional Xhosa ceremonies that allow boys to emerge as men. The work was accompanied by an incredibly beautiful video projection which sadly was not credited.

Also strong on the Fringe was seeing the culmination of some excellent dance training programmes. First was Musa’ Haltshwayo’s Movement Laboratory in a work called “futurescapes”. These young dancers writhe and fall on stage, dressed in gas masks and bound bodies. Hlatshwayo has always had a gift in creating interesting and profound theatrical images, but like some of his more recent work, it does not seem to go anywhere. Setting up harrowing and important images, while powerful and certainly challenging for the young dancers, still requires Hlatshwayo to take a journey – if not for himself, than at least for the audience?

Musa Hlatshwayo
Sifiso Khumalo’s new work with the ADD FLATFOOT dance development programme (entitled, “Sea of Hope”), also saw 13 incredibly focused trainees take the stage in a ritualised dance work that offered a huge challenge around timing and connection.

Sifiso Khumalo
The JOMBA! Fringe also offered two small gems that delighted audiences. The first was a collaboration from PMB based Bonwa Mbontsi, Ashleigh Joubert and Tegan Peacock. Titled “framed”, the work was an unpretentious almost delightful and deceptively ‘ordinary’ play between 3 figures trapped in the trickery of a movable frame. Carefully created and deeply satisfying to watch, this is mature work that demands to be seen again.

Finally Bronwyn Botha’s  “Fitzpleasure’ had the audience whooping and cheering. A trio crafted with Botha herself and Nqubeko Ngema and Njabulo Zungu, saw the three very different dancers lean in and pull away as they fought to find connections and continuity. Clad strangely in Ballet leotard and small tutu, Botha pulls and pushes her place between Ngema and Zungu and  finally ends up seated between them in a statement of belonging and connection.

Bronwyn Botha
Sporting almost a full house the JOMBA! Fringe remains one of JOMBA! most popular events. Long live the endless creativity and the endless stories that South African have to tell – and all in and on the body in acts of political and community remembering. Wonderful stuff!

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Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience