A scene from Fana Tshabalala’s “Indumba” which screened as part of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater’s Legacy Platform offerings at JOMBA! (Photograph Supplied)

Creating Community: South Africa meets Chicago through dance

By Nina-Jo Buttigieg

Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, a Chicago dance company that strives to foster a creative community and provides audiences with emotional, visceral experiences using both American and African dance styles, showcased via livestreaming an unmissable collection of revisited performances on 26 August 2020 for JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience’s Digital “LEGACY PROGRAMME”. The theme of community threaded together these diverse, vibrant, emotional and thought-provoking performances.

In the raw and jarring performance of Indumba (Fana Tshabalala, 2017), dancers clad in white struggled against an unknown force. Despite constantly changing facings and group size, an overarching sense of struggle connected the dancers. The final duet portrayed one performer succumbing to the force, as the other restrains her whilst sharing her pain. Moreover, multiple moments of canon, repetition of phrase and passing of movement through touch, displayed cohesion between the dancers. They may have been isolated from the audience by the box drawn on the stage, but they were never isolated from each other.

The community presented and built in Parallel Lives (Gary Abbott, 2018), centred around the all female casts’ struggles. It opened with one dancer sitting on stage, looking through their thumb and index finger held close to their face and then out in space; a gesture repeated by the ensemble, constantly seeking something; a change to happen. Together they struggled, searched and fought, as their bodies created sharp, elegant, pointed lines and internal, contracting and cyclical movements in tandem, looking externally and internally for a common answer. The dancers, with their mid-length dresses of differing patterns of both American and African fabrics, flowed on stage as a group, and leaned on one another for support. As the high strings climaxed, the dancers, matching the tempo and textures of the music, came together in a ‘V’ formation, interlinked in one final display of camaraderie and community.

Dance Revival (Tshediso Kabulu, 2019), an excerpt from the full-length GOSHEN displays a different kind of community; one of celebration. The vibrant, bold colours of the casual clothes of the dancers and the traditional African clothing of the community behind them, mixed together with their cheers and clapping created a warm and joyous atmosphere on stage. Even watching through a screen, one could not help but smile at the tribute to African culture and dance; old and new. The seamless fluidity between traditional African dance moves with contemporary social dances made for a grand celebration providing respite from the strife displayed earlier.

Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre’s performances showcased a multitude of communities and the vast experiences they share, allowing the audience to experience both their pain and joy.

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23rd annual JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience 24 August – 5 September 2021 (digital festival)

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JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience

JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience

23rd annual JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience 24 August – 5 September 2021 (digital festival)

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