a scene Tshediso Kabulu’s “Space of Colour” on the Digital JOMBA! Edge platform

Mind-mapping the future: new works offered as memory remains the core focus

By Tammy Ballantyne (Guest Writer — The Ar(t)chive)

The opening of the 22nd (Digital) JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience was not in our usual comfort zone of the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at UKZN, greeting old friends, grabbing a drink at the bar, catching snippets of conversation while hurrying into the auditorium. Instead, we collectively met through our screens as this year’s version has been re-imagined in a virtual world due to Covid-19.

Instead of lamenting the crisis we find ourselves in, Dr Lliane Loots and her amazing Jomba! team, have skilfully curated a feast of a programme revolving around the theme of memory, legacy and archive. In her opening night speech, Loots reminded us of how necessary it is “to look back and walk back” as a way of re-remembering and in the words of Toni Morrison, “re-assembling in our bodies”. Loots urges us to trust memory as a way of actively re-visiting seminal contemporary dance works that have shaped our dance history; new works are vital but often we are not given the luxury of time to interrogate and just sit quietly with those creations that have led us to the present.

But the opening was given over to nine KwaZulu-Natal dancemakers who were given grants to create short dance films loosely around the theme of “Intimacies of Isolation”, in a programme entitled JOMBA! Digital Edge. It takes great courage to make a solo and even a duet but to make it during lockdown and then film it for screen requires tenacity and determination. The quality and standard of the works displays great maturity and adaptability.

Some draw us into a space of discomfort, of uneasy truths and realities of a South Africa torn apart by the pandemic of GBV: from Flatfoot Dance Company, Jabu Siphika’s Ya Kutosha is a chilling portrait of a young woman trapped in her home, hiding in fear; Siphika’s legs become the focus as she cradles and touches her body. Dripping water, the crackling (of a fire?) are sinister sounds and her gaze searches outwards as she peers from a fridge, we can taste her fear. Silenced by a mask, the final brutal act of suicide is slow and lonely. Enough!

The contained, measured pace of her solo contrasts with Walls, a duet by Flatfoot’s Sifiso Kitsona Khumalo and his daughter, Lethiwe Zamantungwa Nzama. A tender reaching out as Nzama weaves her small frame over and around her father while he reads the paper; then moves into a dialogue of call and response, a game of contact and touch. The two are so at ease with each other, this is the way it’s supposed to be between fathers and daughters but overlaying the work is the horrendous reality of “fear walking with us”, of Nzama asking, “Why are women and children disappearing?”. Both have written the beautiful poetry that they speak, but Khumalo’s heart-breaking question remains as they hold each other at the end — “Is my daughter safe?”.

Nomcebisi Moyikwa’s U n g a n y a k u m , which she describes as “an experimental multidisciplinary contemplation, a devotion and a prayer decomposed” is brutal in its honesty and distressing as it unpacks the forced silence of women, the shame with which many live and the unspeakable acts that children are witness to. Opening with a hymn, her grotesque mask and purple wig, keep her faceless, while her body, in its full nudity, is exposed, her breath a soundtrack; we are forced to endure her shame with her.

The thing about dance on screen is the intimate nature of the filming — we cannot put a distance between us, the details are crucial to the whole. This is adeptly displayed in Kristi-Leigh Gresse’s Fellow…, a black and white film about anxiety, loneliness and depression. Definitions of these states flash across the screen as the work is performed in complete silence in a bedroom, with slanting light; we are magnetised by her eye holding our gaze, the fine blonde hairs on her body, her tattoos. She dances on the wall-papered wall; she sits very still. The quietness is broken at the end when her legs appear upside down on a swing and we are drawn to the sky, a moment to sniff freedom and open-air.

Leagan Peffer’s Kairos is performed to a series of voiceovers from American movies talking about love, anger, loss and despair. These heavy subjects are dealt with through a largely neo-classical vocabulary, also shot in black and white, with a melodramatic swing into colour where she appears on a balcony overlooking the ocean.

Two gorgeous gems are offered in Tegan Peacock’s Control — Alt — Delete and Flatfoot’s Zinhle Nzama’s Shadow. Created as part of a residency with the Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative (FATC), Control — Alt — Delete sees smart use of digital animation through a partnership with artist Jono Hornby. Peacock’s dexterous body performs against a stark white wall, with a chair and step ladder as dance partners. It is clever, slick and witty, even as it looks at the struggle with control and then the loss of it.

Nzama and Kirsty Ndawo explore friendship in a time of social distancing. It is a serene and calm work shot in colour in a beautiful garden; there is sunlight, flowers, a bench. The shadows on the wall and the small, honest gestures give us breathing space as we contemplate the quiet.

Tshediso Kabulu’s duet Motlatsi Khotle, Space of Colour, is visually one of the most exciting works as he uses several different locations — a dilapidated building, a forest of trees, a rubbish dump, a grass field — and he’s not afraid to work with colour, lots of it! The theme of class and poverty is explored through very specific choreography which is broad and fluid, both Kabulu and Khotle are experienced dancers with a sense of occasion. Punctuating the whole is great use of spoken word poetry by Khwezi Becker and music by Anelisa Stuurman.

Finally, Sandile Mkhize (Phakama Dance Company) and Cue Ngema offer Time, an ode to humanity and ways of being during Covid-19. Mkhize’s storytelling is captured in key moments of “normal” everyday life interspersed with the horrors of illness and death, the danger tape symbolising the crime scenes littered around our locations, the smoke erupting from their mouths as they sweat and steam, perhaps a cleansing ritual? The duet between the two men in a broken building is delicate, evocative, maybe illicit. Mkhize’s empathetic approach is key to this incredibly assembled work.

These choreographers embody the memory of their teachers and training written in their bodies, reminding us of their lineage, mapping the way for a new generation of dance-makers.

The nine Digital Edge works are available free for view for the duration of the Digital JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience. Tune in at 7pm tonight, SAST to catch Deeply Rooted Dance Theater’s programme on the JOMBA! Legacy platform: http://www.jomba.ukzn.ac.za

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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)