“A central motif of frustration permeates the work, and this is felt through the raw (e)motion in the performance” (Photograph by Val Adamson)

Worlds Beyond Imagination

By Thembela Sibiya


ACE dance and music presents “UNKHOWN REALMS”, a double-bill that transcends the past and the present. Performed at the Sneddon Theatre in Durban two distinct works make up the evening’s programme: “THE NIGHT BEFORE TOMORROW” choreographed by Burkina Faso’s Serge Aimé Coulibaly and “MANA — THE POWER WITHIN” by South Africa’s Vincent Sekwati Mantsoe who was JOMBA!’s “Legacy Artist” in 2022. Rooted in African, Caribbean and Contemporary cultures and forms, ACE dance and music present a programme that provoked my imagination and had me transported into other realms.

ACE dance music based in UK, is an agent of cultural exchange, the company makes a specific and valuable contribution to contemporary dance both regionally in the UK, and internationally, pioneering a unique contemporary dance aesthetic which is rooted in traditional forms, infused by influences of cultural exchange and collaborations with dancers and dance-makers across a multicultural spectrum around the globe.

Both works are performed by the six dancers of the company; Janice Ho from Singapore, Thabang Motaung from South Africa, Martina Mancini from Italy, Hannah Woodliffe from Switzerland, Angharad Jones-Young from North Wales, and Mthoko Mkhwanazi from South Africa and who hails from Durban having trained and worked with FLATFOOT DANCE COMPANY who performed as part of JOMBA!’s 25th Anniversary Edition on 8 September.

The first work, opening the evenings programme was evocative and stimulating; Coulibaly’s “THE NIGHT BEFORE TOMORROW” presents a metaphorical night where the six performers do their last dance in lieu of an uncertain (and perhaps unpromised) tomorrow. They escape their everyday life as they dance through the metaphorical night. Logs, benches and tables form part of the set, and these are used to great effect in creating levels that produce interesting shapes and relationships between the performers.

They all began to dance, uncontrollably, a kind of performed anarchy. Their movement, although very controlled, seems to be out- of-control as they produce cycles of silent screams, kneeling, choking, laying on the stage, kicking and doing back flips. A central motif of frustration permeates the work, and this is felt through the raw (e)motion in the performance. In the work, contemporary dance meets pantsula, amapiano and traditional Zulu dancing that is performed with precision by the entire multicultural company.

The work exudes an urgency — the dancers perform like there is no tomorrow — they’re living in the moment and letting go of all that suppresses them in their daily lives. They try to free themselves from colonial mentality — unaware of what is to come tomorrow — not necessarily concerned if there is or will be a “tomorrow”. I’m left pondering the idea of “tomorrow” and how often we take this forgranted, but also how “tomorrow” is often used as the promise of something more, or better to come — this is pertinent to the contemporary South African psyche at the moment.

The stage lighting changes to variety of colors like a disco as the performers are dancing upstage to the right with Janice Ho on top of the table, it’s like a night club — but there is also a sense of foreboding. The dance slows down into a slow-motion movement like a movie scene, there is now on light directly above them as they dance in slow motion the light slightly fades away.

“Thabang Motaung performs with the stick situated downstage to the right, a red powder is poured directly above him its source unknown, but it unleashes a supernatural power in him” (Photograph by Val Adamson)

After a short interval, we return for the second performance: Vincent Sekwati Mantsoe’s “MANA-THE POWER WITHIN”. My eyes were glued to the stage; captivating smooth movements, exhilarating jumps and a groundedness that exhudes the spirit of Mantsoes work — all I can say is bravo!

‘MANA’ is a word used in over twenty-four languages and it refers to a power that is magnetic, transformative, ritualistic and even shamanic — in the programme notes to the work it is described as “universal”. Tracing the journeys of the past lives, this physical work unifies beliefs and cultures through an ultimate force, a source where magic is made. I was captured by the setting of seven bamboo sticks, standing upright placed all over the stage with overhead lights directing attention to them. The six performers upstage are in silhouette — as they emerge from the darkness, walking slowly towards the sticks. Their movement is fluid, unending and their energy is tangible — a signature in Mantsoe’s work and his technique embodied in these young dancers. The costumes, a mixture of Eastern cultures and silhouettes move with the dancers — they are part of the choreography — like the remnants of a movement in time and space.

Thabang Motaung performs with the stick situated downstage to the right, a red powder is poured directly above him its source unknown, but it unleashes a supernatural power in him. Another realm of existence is hailed into the space through his ritualised and stylised movement. He kneels and then stands rotating the stick while the other performers move slowly towards their separate bamboo sticks. As the lights fade to black, I can’t help but acknowledge the tangible transformation felt through the work — it’s my own sense of being present as witness to the sacred stories these artists have gifted us with.

The evenings’ programme has me considering the elasticity of time — history, present (and presence) and future all find articulation in the two works presented by the powerful ACE dance and music company. The festival provocation “(In)tangible heritages” is certainly explored throughout the programme and it feels full circle that the Durban leg of the festival draws to its close with these significant works! Ngiyabonga kahulu ACE dance and music for a truly memorable experience!

There is one final performance of ACE dance and music’s “UNKNOWN REALMS” this afternoon at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. Book via Computicket to secure your seat and experience this truly amazing programme that is a real gift for our local audiences!



JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience

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