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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

JOMBA! (article first published : 2003-09-6)

The Centre for Creative Arts’ Jomba! annual contemporary dance experience is a much-anticipated festival on Durban’s dance calendar. This year it ran from August 22 to 31 and included a feast of dance showcasing a range of top local and international talent. Events took place at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, the NSA Gallery, Wiggins Hall in Cato Manor and the Austerville Hall in Wentworth. Jomba! offers creative exchange opportunities for local choreographers and arts practitioners and the programme was packed with performances, workshops and dance skills-sharing, master classes and heated debates on dance and arts issues.

I took in three of the events and was most impressed by the level of creativity as well as the challenging issues tackled by Durban choreographers, dancers and dance companies.

The opening featured a superbly magical work titled Keiju (Fairy) by Finnish choreographer Jyrki Karttunen. Described as a “dance work for adults disguised as a fairy tale” it was a masterful collaboration of dance and video technology and no doubt provided much inspiration for local choreographers. This review can be found on the artSMart Dance pages.

The next performance I saw included works by choreographers Jay Pather (Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre), Lliane Loots (Flatfoot Dance Company), David Gouldie (Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company) and Sbonakaliso Ndaba (Phenduka Dance Theatre).

Jay Pather’s Not (0) looked at what the word zero stands for in terms of emptiness or absence as well as its more ethereal connotations. A fascinating white caterpillar-shaped figure transforms into the figure of a woman (Neliswa Rushualang) wearing a mass of empty plastic water containers on her back. This was a brilliant concept and used to much good effect, presenting a certain graceful imagery despite the bulkiness of the objects. The piece involves a non-birthday party and a cake that keeps running away, relationships that are formed and unformed and a comforting feeling of space.

Lliane Loots’s a stranger in a strange land looked at dreams versus reality. She made innovative use of EmCees Nathan Redpath and Iain Robinson. Adorned with childlike painted butterfly wings, they created the backing through poetry, rhythms and sounds for the various “journeys” the work incorporated. This was a compelling piece where sometimes fellow “travellers” carried each other in their journey to a common destination or travelled in a team that was inhospitable or confrontational.

David Gouldie’s Run for Cover burst onto the stage with its highly amusing and bitingly critical comment of social behaviour. Hard-hitting and provocative, the work takes place in - around, under and on top of! - a dinner table and the underlying relationships that can be simmering during a meal. There are some hilarious moments particularly in a parody of the Swan Lake cygnets. With a real attitude, Thulebona Mzizi was a delicious maitre d’ cum ladies’ maid in high heels and a crouching walk!

Sbonakaliso Ndaba changed the mood entirely with her visually stunning When the Outside Comes In which won the Daimler Chrysler Award for South African Choreography in 2003. It deals with the questions facing contemporary South Africans in terms of observance and respect of traditional rural beliefs as opposed to modern-day behaviour and values. Beautifully lit, it makes strong use of back lighting which means that the shadows of the dancers are thrown onto the back wall like San paintings in a cave.

Without exception, all four works were too long, often repetitive with over-exploration of themes. This is also a problem with many of the new dramatic theatre pieces running in town at the moment. Judicious cutting strengthens as the bare essence of the work is allowed space in which to breathe.

The Jomba! Young Choreographers evening showcased five promising young Durban dance-makers who received a grant from the Centre of Creative Arts to make a new work to premiere on the last night of the festival. The programme included S’phelele Nzama’s Freestruggle, a dramatic and well-constructed work examining the lifestyle and conditions of township men pre-1994. Neliswa Rushualang dealt with the call of the ancestors in her eloquent and slow-moving I Mbeko. Mlungisi Zondi showed initial promise with Abel & Cain but didn’t pursue the dramatic potential strongly enough. Ignatius van Heerden’s Let me walk over you so my feet won’t touch the ground had exciting moments and a striking set. Musa Hlatshwayo’s Amashinga was a fast-moving work dealing with the tradition of stick fighting.

Running in collaboration with Jomba was the NSA’s Dance Quickies which saw works presented by five young choreographers/performance artists who were given grants for new works to be presented in this forum. The pieces were performed in various areas of the gallery space with the audience moving around to each venue. While this is an interesting process, it means that the audience stands all the time (unless they want to sit on the floor) and therefore it is not always easy to get an uninterrupted view of the performances.

Works included Bitter Sweet by Samantha Wright, Anti Wrinkle Cream by Suhana Gordhan, Small Change by Siyanda Duma, and Sakubona by Ntando Cele. Running simultaneously was a video project by Vaughn Sadie simply called Untitled. The works that impressed me most came from Siyanda Duma and Ntando Cele.

The Centre for Creative Arts acknowledges the kind support of principal sponsors The National Lottery and The Royal Netherlands Embassy, as well as sponsors and partners The National Arts Council of South Africa, Ethekwini Municipality, Hivos, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, Embassy of Finland (SA), The French Institute of South Africa (IFAS), University of Natal - Public Affairs Division, NSA Gallery and the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre.

For more information visit www.und.ac.za/und/carts




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