Sylvester Thamsanqa Majela performs in “NEVERLAND” (photograph supplied)


by Tammy Ballantyne (Guest Writer)


Now in its second year in digital form, the 23rd JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience looks at “Border Crossings”as its theme. Two new dance films — NEVERLAND by Sylvester Thamsanqa Majela and Dust to Dust by Sizakele Nonthutuzelo Mdi — were born out of the Crossings residency held online and in studio in November /December 2020 in Bloemfontein. The works were shown as part of the Vrystaat Arts Festival Vrynge as a partnership project with Dance Forum’s Georgina Thomson.

Crossings was initially hosted in the early 2000’s by the Dance Forum, Dance Factory and Moving into Dance, Johannesburg as well as the UCT Dance Department, Cape Town. It was initiated by Michel Kelemenis from the KLAP Maison pour la Danse, France and it ran for two weeks with selected choreographers and lighting designers, composers, and dancers. Artists came from all over the world, with the dancers being mainly from Johannesburg. This incubator format allowed opportunities for young artists to connect and cross over into each other’s spaces with the intention of creating new works. The background of each artist guided and influenced the creative process leading to new cross-cultural outputs.

Thomson, recognising the need to adapt to Covid-19 and online formats for creative work, succeeded in bringing Majela, Mdi and Motlatsi Khotla into a two-week intensive online facilitation with Vincent Sekwati Mantsoe and Musa Hlatshwayo. The third and final week the choreographers were able to work in studios at PACOFS and selected a composer and two dancers to work with. The outcomes were presented on the final day after which Majela and Mdi were commissioned to create dance film works for the Vrystaat Vrynge and JOMBA! 2021.

Majela, whose roots are in the Free State, has been living and working in Johannesburg for several years. A graduate of the Performing Arts, Research and Training Studios (P.A.R.T.S) in Brussels, he received his formal dance training at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). He has worked with the likes of Dada Masilo, Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative, Gaby Saranouffi and The Centre of the Less Good Idea. Majela has had several successes in the last few years with short films and his latest offering, Mommy Mommy premiered on the Virtual National Arts Festival in July.

NEVERLAND, shot in black and white amidst a broken landscape of shale and the peeling walls of an abandoned building, features Pule Paul Peter grappling with his troubled mind. Majela’s theme stems from his interest in dissociative identity disorder and his choreography uses repetition, sharp edges and metaphors of hiding and revealing, the ever-present tone of violence imminent. Chesney Palmer has created the music while several voice-over artists speak in French and English.

The filming of the work echoes the fragmentation and disassociation experienced by people who suffer from this disorder, shifting between moments of madness, direct close-ups and the sharp focus on Peter’s agonised, twitching body, clothed in blinding white shirts.

Mdi’s work, by contrast, is softer, slower but no less disturbing as we see Simphiwe Mbekiselwa entwine himself in and around a smashed tree, branches hanging desolately, the wind ruffling the bright green leaves. A study of letting go, acceptance of death perhaps, points to the title Dust to Dust, and we become acquainted with Mbekiselwa’s reaching hands and rhythmic feet. Composer Dumelang Bondo has melded gentle music with clapping, chanting, drumming and the filming uses several effective slow-motion moments while also focussing on the contrasting textures of leaves, bark, dusty earth and the body’s return to that earth.

Mdi is a Free State-based choreographer and director at Bokang Lefoko Theatre. She has worked with Gregory Vuyani Maqoma, PJ Sabbagha, Nthsieng Mokgoro and Portia Mashigo. She creates work with the purpose of raising social awareness around issues such as femicide and mental illness and prior to this commissioned work co-choreographed Sub-Zero in 2020 with Majela, a dance film on the effects of lockdown.

The works feature as part of the “South African Crossings” platform on Monday 30th August at 19:00 (CAT) as part of the 23rd JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience.

The CCA’s JOMBA! 2021 runs from 24 August to 5 September and can be navigated free of charge via the website, or subscribe to the JOMBA! YouTube channel here:

A full programme is available via the website.



JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience

25th annual JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience 29 August – 10 September 2023