Tshepo Molusi’s “The Convincer” took second place for this year’s JOMBA! Open Horizons online platform as part of the first hybrid JOMBA! festival this year.

JOMBA! Open Horizons 2022 — The Space Authors Us

By Jennifer Passios (Guest Writer)

JOMBA! Contemporary Experience launched the first of its 2022 digital offerings on 1 September with the release of six screen dances through the Open Horizons Platform. Now in its second iteration, this showcase offers audiences around the world the opportunity to engage with short films (one to eight minutes long) conceptualized and created by dance makers across the African continent. Panelists selected six films for inclusion in this adjudicated platform. The 2022 edition features five works by South African artists/ensembles Sibonelo Mchunu (Durban); Sasha Fourie (Cape Town), Tshepo Molusi (Johannesburg); Kwanele Finch Thusi (Johannesburg); and Experience (Cape Town) alongside work by Kenyan choreographer Diana Gaya (Kisumu). In line with this year’s festival theme, “the (im)possibility of home”, the four solos and two duets give six different takes on relationships to spaces as the identities of those spaces, and the people encountering them change.

Open Horizons begins with a blue door that leads the viewer into the narrow corridor of Sibonelo Mchunu’s Ill State. Initially confined to the dead end of the corridor, Mchunu dressed in black mobilizes the joints of his shoulders, spine, knees, wrists and back. Pipe heads push out from the walls and dive down into a detritus strewn ground, watched over by screened windows with brick sills. The camera, which could be held by any one of us watching, chronicles Mchunu as he gains familiarity with and agency over the confines of his space. He pushes himself up on the brick ledges, steps on the heads of the pipes, swings up and down the corridor. Part vignette and part voyeurism, this film establishes an oscillating relationship between the dancer and the space he occupies. Sometimes the dancer authors the space. Sometimes the space authors the dancer.

When awarding third place to Diana Gaya’s film, Inside Out, panelist Shannelle Jewnarain acknowledged, “the dichotomies within a lived experience and the challenges of drawing strength” that appear throughout the work. For me, the most significant example of dichotomy appears in Gaya’s relationship to three of the film’s set establishing features — fallen leaves, a large tire, and a sturdy tree. Accompanied by a busy sound scape featuring sonic images including goats bleating, harsh buzzing, a baby crying, a threatening rattle, synthesized air being sucked out backward, and a blaring siren, these three outdoor staples move from protective, to dangerous. Gaya efforts her way around the tire, one anchored arm convincing her body to complete the circle as her eyes remain focused on something in the distance that deserves her attention. She lays her upper body back across the tire, white button-up clad torso and heavy head spilling to the outside with outstretched arms until her anchored feet snap her back up to standing. Leaves crumble contemplatively through her hands. She climbs the tree. It hides her and hangs her.

Sasha Fourie returns to the Open Horizons platform this year with a short sea, sand, and sky look book. In Braid, dancers Gita Galina and Taryn Katz appear side by side in muted shades of cream, tan and light olive. While the environment at the edge of the ocean can often be met with a sense of vastness, this screen dance conveys intimacy. The dancers engage in the simple actions of crossing their mutually long hair, weaving their tresses into plaits, and coiling the hair on top of their heads into buns. These could be two sisters getting ready for an event or friends trying to keep the wind from winning its perpetual tangle war. This dance is a balm, its care and calm strongly supported by Kori Clarke’s camera work.

The opening image of Tshepo Molusi’s second place film, The Convincer immediately evokes imagery from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Both golden-rod steeped works cover mental health topics and revolve around an external voice driving the conditions of a solo actor. Sitting on a stool in the corner of an off-white room with a tan gold floor Molusi proceeds through a flipbook of gestures and facial manipulations aimed at a subject the audience cannot see. His hands point, rotate, grasp, and clasp in time with shrugged shoulders, eyes and a jaw that pop and slacken together. At shin height, two horizontal black lines strike the converging walls that meet behind his sitting place. Throughout the film, these black lines change the space. On screen, five Molusi’s sit next to each other. The black lines on the wall extend into corridors separating the five selves. Later in the film, three copies sit next to one another as the black lines the adjacent images of the stools to the wall. The chaos of the dancer’s facial expressions, the use of his voice, and tension of the gesture work all stand in contrast to the warm ambiance of the film’s yellow tones. Toward the latter half of the film, footage of Molusi on a proscenium stage appears interspersed with the off-white room. Given the different film qualities, the changes in the scale of the movement, and the clear designation of stage space, I don’t think this choice served the screendance. I would be curious to see what would happen if the choreographer/ director chose to condense the film and ask the viewer to sit fully with the discomfort of seeing the dancer’s emotional and physical kaleidoscope up close.

Kwanele Finch’s film, PINA appears as a celebration and exploration of the self in a public place. For me, the film serves more as a teaser for a live performance than as a standalone screen dance. Less than three minutes long, the short form film contains clips from a live performance in a public park. The audience sits at picnic tables near a volleyball net to a backdrop of stacked beige homes and the occasional passing train. Finch appears in a long black, open shirt dress with black underwear. He dances with his head facing the sky, moving off center as his arms arc in wide circles and cut across center. His feet support him deftly. There is no fear of falling as he laughs, gestures, and moves unapologetically through the audience members who have the freedom to come and go as they please. PINA will be touring France, Angola, The Netherlands, and Sweden in the upcoming year. I am glad that more audiences will have the opportunity to see the work live. This work was meant to be witnessed in person.

The 2022 Open Horizons platform concludes at sunset, a time filled with possibility and color, as Experience’s winning screen dance I Am comes into view. Conceptualized and filmed by Experience Directors Olivia Ntsuba and Keisha Solomon with choreography and performance by Yaseen Manuel and Philasande Majikeia, this thoughtful, high-quality film was well deserving of its first-place designation. Singing strings play in two brown male bodies facing the shore in a frothing surf. Clad in light shades of grey and beige, their faces obscured by billowing sheets of white fabric, the dancers arc their upper bodies in half circles, right arms rounded at the elbow with bladed palms facing their hidden faces. They move their hands and open their elbows across where their eyes must be. For a moment, one dancer offers a glimpse of his face. The film’s opening text, “There is no infinite purpose attached to a hollow and malleable definition of identity “, indicates a pathway to purpose. While these dancers could be anyone while their faces remain concealed, they are specific people. Yaseen Manuel and Philasande Majikeia soak their pants in the waves, fall with abandon in sand dunes, and run full speed across the beach. As the film closes, drenched in the reds and oranges of sundown they sit facing away from one another and exhale.

JOMBA! Open Horizons 2022 aired on September 1, 2022 and will be available for viewing on the JOMBA! YouTube page until the end of the festival on September 11, 2022. I would highly encourage a watch and then a rewatch.

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JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience

JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience

24th annual JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience 30 August – 11 September 2022 (hybrid festival)