JOMBA! propels Durban artists onto the ‘Digital Edge’ of dance excellence
By Alexander Dale
JOMBA!’s commissioned platform, “Digital Edge”, features works by Durban-based artists who each explore the festival’s curatorial framework of “Border Crossings” through the medium of screendance.
The first of a total of six works, Uhambo by Sabelo Cele, places Queer bodies in states of liminality and transition. Initially confronted with isolated Queer bodies forced to navigate unforgiving industrial spaces, the tension in the work is quickly shifted through colour and movement. Finding relief in dance, the Black Queer identities in Cele’s work are liberated through a transcendental escape into a state of community and multiplicity. In finding similitude, Cele demonstrates the importance of community in times of hardship or change; an encouraging proposition as we continue to face the adversities of the post-pandemic world. In Uhambo, Cele not only orchestrates an engaging and sharp editing vocabulary but extends the camera’s capabilities to not only move around the dancing body, but through it.
Aphelele Nyawose’s imThwalo, which loosely translates as baggage or burden, situates itself as a difficult reminder of the gender-based violence crisis facing South Africa. The work immediately captures the viewer’s attention with swift and recognisable edited sequences of urban domestic life in South Africa. However, Nyawose delves beyond the childhood ‘stoep’ and steps bravely into the subjectivity of the black femme body. Throughout the performance, we are presented with domestic bodies who, in the wake of heteronormative realities of patriarchal violence, find themselves running away from …themselves. Confined to the nihilism of the domestic space in a state of violence, the performers resemble ghosts, husks of former selves and liberated futures, peering through broken windows. Nyawose’s work not only captures the unbearable burden of being a woman in South Africa but offers the audience a poignant glimpse into the agony of isolation and economic hardship as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, Nyawose refuses a singular narrative of suffering and demands a futurity of resistance, resilience and hope. In imThwalo, Nyawose not only delivers a powerful and stirring performance but perpetually returns to the broken window to continue looking out, to continue hoping, to continue fighting for better days.
While Nyawose looks forward towards hope, in Can you see me now?,Nqubeko ‘Cue’ Ngema exposes the power of looking back to the past for guidance. The work is incredibly moving with a stunning score that highlights and intensifies the complex emotional experiences stimulated by Ngema’s choreographies. Ngema’s work roots itself in Afrocentric philosophies and presents a poetic illustration of unlearning and unshackling. Memory and history, essential characteristics of indigenous African cultural practices and rituals, not only become powerful tools with which to wash away the blinding impositions of colonialism but emerges as a threshold into spiritual connection and guidance. Filmed against the perpetual ebb and flow of the ocean’s waves, Ngema reminds us of the importance of community and connection. Despite the constrictions and borders inherent to the terrestrial world, if we hold onto where we come from and recognise those who came before us, we can never truly be lost, we can never truly be alone.
In the other three works, we witness how dance aids in the construction of identity and personal histories in Cameron Govender’s Aikyam and Thobile Maphanga’s Sihamba Sizibhala and, in Sinethemba Khuzwayo’s Border Impositions, how the individual struggles against the boundaries and differences that have come to define our society.
Ultimately, JOMBA! presents an exciting platform that not only showcases rising artists in South Africa but offers us a point of connection. Each of these brilliant artists remind us to look out of the broken window and continue fighting, continue hoping.
The JOMBA! Durban Digital Edge works are available to view on the festival’s YouTube Channel for the remainder of the festival.