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Highlights from Dance Umbrella 2015



The 27th edition of the Dance Umbrella has just come to a close. The two-week long programme featured a vast array of works by both established and young choreographers, dancers and artists as well as international collaborations and dance-related events. This year marked the inclusion of a few new additions to the programme, like Street Beat and Negotiating Space, a site-specific ‘group show’.


Whilst presented as a ‘contemporary dance’ festival, many of the works on this year’s programme challenged this label, like Gavin Krastin’s On Seeing Red, Sello Pesa’s Simunye: we are one and several of the pieces on the Negotiating Space programme. These works had very little ‘dance’ in them at all, instead encroaching into the performance art space. Other works that would technically be classified under this definition, like the grande dame of contemporary dance Tossie van Tonder’s Chthonia, also pushed beyond it, incorporating voice, dialogue, video and imagery; basically lots of ‘non-movement’ elements. In discussions before and during Dance Umbrella, people performing or presenting work commonly referred to themselves as artists, rather than a dancer or choreographer. They didn’t want to be labelled, boxed or constricted. This revealed that the blurring of definitions and divides between disciplines evident in the works comes straight from the artistic source. So while at times this might be challenging (especially for older, established audience members), it’s also extremely exciting – because when the show starts, anything could happen.


Here are some of our highlights from the festival (and you’ll note, they’re not your conventional ‘contemporary dance-y’ pieces):



On Fire: The Invention of Tradition by Constanza Macras




A wry multi-media dance-drama by Argentinean choreographer/director Constanza and a mixed cast of local and Berlin-based performers, exploring and re-evaluating heritage and tradition in our fragmented and urbanised world through the unlikely trope of the soap opera. High-energy and fiercely satirical, the work picks away at the complex and tangled social fibres that we negotiate in our day-to-day lives.



Street Beat compiled by Matthews Manamela




New to the Dance Umbrella programme, Street Beat grew out of and has now replaced the Stepping Stones programme, which was an open stage for performers of any genre, style and level to present their work. Over the years, street dance performances dominated the programme, resulting in this year’s first official street dance programme, which featured Pantsula, Hip-hop, and Isibujwa dance styles. Crews were selected through an audition process, and mentored through preparing a show for stage. The programme was a huge success, and enjoyed by the dancers and capacity crowd who attended.



Fight, Flight, Feathers, F***ers by Sunnyboy Motau and Rachel Erdos




A dramatically staged, very high-energy performance by dancers from Moving Into Dance Mophatong exploring the politics and poetics of masculinity. Performed almost entirely with latex wolf masks, the choreography derived from the fight-flight notion, and used this as a mechanism to interrogate the physical, animalistic side of masculinity versus more emotive, vulnerable qualities.



Wena Mamela by Mamela Nyamza




An eccentric and ingenious solo that reflects on and challenges stereotypical depictions of women. Using symbolic props, her voice and a wearable puppet ‘partner’, Mamela worked her way through and embodied the varied personas and experiences of women in South Africa.



Simonye: we are one by Sello Pesa




In typical Sello style, this work took place outside of the theatre in a parking lot in Newtown, a fitting setting to explore notions of patriotism and who and what makes up the ‘rainbow nation’. At times awkward and challenging, at times innately human, this work looked beyond the national view to focus on everyday moments and experiences.



Fremde Tänze by Nelisiwe Xaba




This work, which translates as Strange Dances, was created in residency in the Black Forest in South Germany in response to a forgotten, or suppressed aspect of German Modern Dance: its exoticism. Using the mechanisms of the exotic dances of the 1910s and 20s, Nelisiwe playfully resists and subverts the exoticised lens, turning it back to the Black Forest and re-channelling Africa through it.



Ngizwise by Sonia Radebe and Jennifer Dallas




This thought-provoking work performed by four dancers from Moving Into Dance Mophatong reflects on our history through the perspective and experiences of different generations. With simple but impactful staging and props, the work also pays tribute to women and explores alternate expressions of masculinity.


Look out for Pointe by Nelisiwe Xaba, The Last Dance by Mamela Nyamza, and Ngiswize by Sonia Radebe & Jennifer Dallas at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival in July.


All photos by John Hogg 


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