Category: Indigenous

Nomcebisi Moyikwa performs at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, 03 July 2015. The show is a production of the First Physical Theatre Company and tells the story of the journey of  Inqindi. (Photo: CuePix/Tamani Chithambo).

“Can we just admit that white people are so illiterate when it comes to black bodies?”

Choreographer Nomcebisi Moyikwa’s bold statement immediately caught my attention and led to one of the most informative conversations I have had this year. She struck me as a person who embodies (among other things) the strength and confidence of a black woman.

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Carlton Zhanelo perfoms in the Tumbuka dance company production, portrait of myself as my father, at Alec Mullins venue in Grahamstown on 3 July 2015; at the 2015 National Arts Festival. The dance is choreographed by Nora Chipaumire; the Zimbabwean rooted dance celebrates masculinity, the African body and the Zimbabwean self. (Photo: CUEPIX/Niamh Walsh-Vorster)

The Tumbuka Dance Company’s offering of Portrait of Myself as My Father brings a delightful energy and spirit to African dance and music that made more than one audience member dance in their seat and the aisles.

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Athena Mazarakis and Nadine Joseph in the dance production Neither Here nor There in the PJ’s venue during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa on Monday 7 July 2014. The dance production choreographed by Nadine Joseph deals with the transitory space of addiction. (Photo: CUEPIX/Niamh Walsh-Vorster)

neither HEre nor there (and everythIng elSe) is Nadine Joseph’s rather abstract response to the issue of drug addiction in a South African context. She is the winner of the 2013 Standard Bank Ovation Award for her physical theatre piece for.Given.

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Choreographer, teacher and dancer, Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance Fana Tshabalala’s engagement with cleansing ceremonies led him to explore the possibilities in which rites of passage can create new beginnings and purify minds and bodies from the negativities that haunt us. His new work titled Indumba – a hut used as a place for cleansing rituals in most African countries – aims to create a space within which bodies will follow the inner voice that is constantly guiding and feeding them on what to do; despite often choosing not to listen and ending up with regrets. In this space there’s no right or wrong but every moment is appreciated for what it is and what it can be…

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A varied and controversial programme of dance this year featured a fusion of international names and influences.

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I’ve got nothing against breasts. In fact, nudity on the stage can be effective both in its aesthetic function and as a means of expressing a point. However, there is a fine line between tasteful nudity and gratuitous baring of body parts.

I recently saw a particularly strong performance of traditional Xhosa dancing. The dancers were well-rehearsed, confident and jubilant in an utterly infectious way. Unfortunately for all involved, their costumes didn’t hold up nearly as well.

Some of the girls chose to wear their costume tops as boob tubes instead of halter necks. Never a good idea when the choreography involves jumping! One boob tube didn’t quite make it to the end of the first routine, and the audience respectfully diverted its attention to the fully-clothed members of the dance troupe.

Scene change, wardrobe change. Thank goodness. Anyone familiar with live performance knows the embarrassment of costume malfunctions. But the relief was short-lived: the dancers jived back into the intimate amphitheatre, this time with no tops at all. The spectators squirmed. NOW where would they look?

But these dancers were young and not self-conscious in the slightest. The rest of the costuming included beads and skins, true to traditional Xhosa dress. They were celebrating their heritage, and seemed beautifully free of the insecurities with which many young women regard their bodies.

Audience’s Reaction

However, without an understanding of the cultural context, this translated rather awkwardly to the American and Asian tourists. Even more awkward was the increasingly sexual nature of the dance movements. Given that the dancers were performing in male/female pairs, and given their youth, the bouncing body parts really just served to send the front row scuttling.

In Brett Bailey’s Exhibit A, the topless figures are as shocking and leave the onlooker profoundly uncomfortable. The difference here is in the profundity. In Bailey’s work, nudity is used to deepen the viewer’s understanding of the objectification of the African body as it was studied in colonial pseudo-science.

Nudity can be a valuable and even essential component of an artistic message. But it takes a discerning theatre-maker to resist busting loose merely for shock value, and to expose the human body with the intimacy and respect it deserves. It’s about trust, not titillation!

– Chelsea Geach –

The San were musical pioneers and, being nomads, they travelled throughout Southern Africa interacting with each and every tribe of people they encountered. San musical instruments, such as the mouth-bow and ankle rattles, and San dances such as the imitating of animals and clapping in circles, travelled the country with them. They were also a peace-loving people.

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It’s not only South Africans who pride themselves as descendants of the San, often described as the most ancient culture in the world. “We all have this connection with the San as a source of humankind,” believes Philippe Pelen Baldini from Reunion, who directs !Aïa, a show that transcends narration in a musical, theatrical and choreographic exploration of identity, mobility, relationships and nature.

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If the contemporary situation in Africa can be compared to the aftermath of a rape by colonial cultures (as Jay Pather maintains), then some of the Festival’s endeavours to encourage indigenous isiXhosa performance might be seen as ways of dealing with the lingering effects of trauma, as ways of healing.

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The regal and colourful music, song and dance of Rajasthan – a melodical journey in folk dance, song and music, was brought to Grahamstown as a joint initiative between the National Arts Festival, the Indian Cultural Centre (of the Consulate General of India) and the Department of Arts and Culture.

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