The body to the rescue

Helene Cathala and Desire Davids perform B.L.E.N.D. at the 15th JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience. Photo: Val Adamson

WORDS can fail us. Even the most eloquent among us can fall victim to a sudden loss of words, simply because, sometimes, words are not enough. And when words fail, the body comes to the rescue.

Beyond that shallow pool of habitual gestures we use to communicate our everyday banalities, lies a deep well of physical vocabulary we can use to express the unfathomable scope of human thought, feeling and experience. This is the territory explored by many of the dancers and choreographers who presented their work at this year’s JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience .

Audiences at the festival’s opening night bore witness to the results of a fruitful collaboration between two dancers and choreographers, Durban-born Desire Davids and Helene Cathala from France. The work’s title, B.L.E.N.D., was a useful clue in decoding the mix of media, styles, ideas and identities as these ballet-trained dancers bravely explored their creative partnership as a comment on the inherent complexities of human relationships. The controlled dynamism of that work contrasted nicely with the manic showmanship of Portuguese dancer-choreographer Francisco Camacho’s The King in Exile, a work steeped in Portugal’s political history. Channeling the last king of Portugal, Manuel II, Camacho crawled, preened, staggered and spun across the stage in a dark juxtaposition of duty and decadence.

Standard Bank Young artist award winner Fana Tshabalala presented what was perhaps the most nakedly visceral work at this year’s festival so far. Inspired by Mozambican cleansing rituals, Indumba was a numinous display of bodily virtuosity, as Tshabalala and his dancers from the Johannesburg-based Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative transformed the stage into group therapy session-cum-cleansing ritual, their contorted bodies moving with almost preternatural speed while a hypnotic sound score by Nicholas Aphane added to the palpable intensity of the performance.

In a brand new collaboration with artSPACE (Durban), [email protected] was a heady marriage of performance, ritual, photography and film. The artSPACE gallery was transformed into a shrine to the art form, with photographer extraordinaire Val Adamson’s photo exhibition bearing testament to Durban’s rich dance history. With commissioned site-specific works from two of Durban’s most prolific dance theatre makers, Musa Hlatshwayo (ABANGUNI) and Vusi Makanya (SUICIDE: at six years old), a guest performance by Swiss-Japanese dancer Misato Inoue (SWAN) and a specially curated collection of short ‘screendance’ films curated by Jeanette Ginslov that form part of JOMBA’s collaboration with Screendance Africa, it was a sensual evening of artistic solidarity.

Now in its 15th year, the JOMBA! stage has been graced by an impressive array of local and international dance theatre artists, making it one of only a handful of world class dance festivals in the country. A rare platform for dance artists to showcase their work, it’s also an incubator for young choreographers through its Fringe and Youth Fringe programmes. This years Fringe line-up boasted a diverse selection which included returning performers and choreographers Kieron Jina, Themba Mbuli, Flatfoot Dance Company’s Sifiso Khumalo and hip hop dance crew 031 Floor Assassins.

With contemporary dance flying so low below the radar, the fringe festival serves as an important reminder to our communities that young people are serious about making dance. All they need is our support.

The 15th JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience is at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until 8 September. Visit http://www.cca.ukzn.ac.za for details on upcoming shows.

  AUTHOR
Chris Tobo
Columnist

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