JOMBA! @20! Memorable Legacy
An excerpt of Prof Ketu H. Katrak’s Jomba! experience
JOMBA! 2018 offered a characteristically remarkable range of Contemporary Dance Experience — from the very young, five to six-year old’s, along with the youth who danced with focus, skill, and gusto at the JOMBA! Youth Fringe (at the Open-Air Theatre, UKZN Howard College Campus, on September 2), to the mature, professional dancers who were all part of the historic “Legacy”, the 20th anniversary of Jomba! in its Durban home from August 28-September 9, 2018.
The historic Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre was the site of JOMBA! 2018’s opening on August 28, 2018. As Lliane Loots, veteran Artistic Director of JOMBA! for eighteen of the past twenty years, stepped up to the spotlighted stage podium, she was greeted with thunderous applause indicating the audience’s deep appreciation of her creative and courageous work in keeping JOMBA! alive in the face of massive funding cuts and other challenges.
Loots’ remarks served as a Keynote address presenting significant goals of building community, of breaking barriers in a world undergoing what she called “seismic” shifts, spiraling downward into building walls of divisions (a la Trump), or the UK brexiting the European Union. The ripple effects of such political-economic events are devastating for ordinary people whose voices are not heard. In this fragmented global environment, “losing community” remarked Loots wisely, “is the death of art.” However, Loots asserts the “feeling of community” and of hope provided by the generosity of all who continue to struggle to make art, who assert the need for art and for democracy as basic human rights. Loots and her team, in making JOMBA! 2018 possible, are the keepers of hope for artists in South Africa and beyond.
Loots introduced a significant Islamic word, namely, “jihad” that has been unfairly maligned to create hatred and fear against all Muslims. Usually translated only as taking up arms in a “holy war”, what Loots gained from working with this year’s collaborative project between Cape Town’s Unmute Dance Company and Durban’s Flatfoot Dance Company, is the wisdom of choreographer Yaseen Manuel and Sufi philosophy that interprets “jihad” as “the daily war inside our souls” remarks Loots, “inner battles that are never easy in our political and cultural landscape.” How do we face these psychic and emotional conflicts in the midst of scenarios of violence and rape; how do we not “lose our jihad”, namely our own internal battles to create art and be part of making a peaceful world? She asks astutely with a poignant ring to her tone: where, in the South African context today, are “the principles of our Freedom Charter?”
Loots remarks that endeavors on the artistic front are up against a socio-economic climate that supports only artistic productions that promote “national cohesion.” This is a strange mandate, posits Loots astutely, given South Africa’s diverse population. Art cannot be measured only in terms of capital gains, or the GDP of South Africa’s economy. Rather, Loots notes that there is “another type of cultural process” — art for education, for inner growth, for shifting consciousness and for celebrating a revolution of beauty, not for “market value”. The profound significance of art, Loots remarks with perspicacity, “is self-realized people.” Further, she asserts that “Art is a manifestation of hope, a jihad for us” that enables us to defy borders, and to take on decolonizing education in our society. Such values were realized by the artists and dance-makers of JOMBA! 2018, evident especially in the faces and smiles of the JOMBA! Youth Fringe participants from local areas, mentored skillfully and sensitively by dance professionals.
Loots indicated some highlights of Jomba!’s remarkable “Legacy” program, celebrated with the return in 2018 of the Johannesburg-based Moving into Dance Mophatong (MIDM) that had performed at Jomba!’s first showcase of Contemporary Dance in 1998. MIDM is also celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2018, begun by the visionary Sylvia Glasser who laid the foundation for a non-racial dance company during apartheid in 1978. From South Africa to India, Loots noted the participation of India-based Contemporary Indian dancer, Anita Ratnam and her feminist voice, transcending borders of traditional representations of women in her work, A Million Sitas. JOMBA! continues to support new works, as well as partnering with the Durban Art Gallery. The JOMBA! Fringe and Youth Fringe platforms are crucial in building the next generation of dancers. Workshops and community classes offer training in techniques such as lighting by Chicago-based Julie Ballard, and Writing residencies first begun by veteran journalist Adrienne Sichel who has been part of JOMBA! since its inception; this year the residency was facilitated by Chicago-based dance journalist Lauren Warnecke.
At JOMBA! 2018, Sichel’s book entitled Body Politics: Fingerprinting South African Contemporary Dance was launched on September 4. This text is a landmark contribution for dancers, choreographers, festival organizers; it includes a treasure-trove of Sichel’s own witnessing of the evolution of Contemporary South African Dance since the 1970s.
Loots thanked maestro photographer of dance, Val Adamson, who gives her time and expertise “to be the eyes of the festival” in her superb visual work. With all such supporters of Jomba! Loots appreciates this community that is willing to speak truth to power. In closing, she quoted from Paulo Freire who asserts “the imperative to maintain hope, to always begin anew, to refuse to live life as a process.” Loots’ own incredibly hopeful spirit, and her determination to keep spaces like JOMBA! alive have been key for artists in Durban and beyond. She has served as “a guiding light” as was noted in the vote of thanks after her remarks at the Opening of JOMBA! 2018.
Prof Katrak’s full piece will be included in the Jomba! Khuluma Digital Editions