South Africa’s renowned dance festival, the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience celebrated its 22nd consecutive year with the first-ever online performances during opening night. The festival is hosted by the Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) within the College of Humanities.
Delivering the welcome address, CCA Director Dr Ismail Mahomed said that ‘the absence of assembly in our theatres spaces leaves us yearning for the intimacy of live performances which is a dynamic relationship between audiences and artists.’ He added that the festival ‘continues to give artists a platform to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and freedom of creativity through a digital and online platform; and at the same it allows our artists through their participation in the festival to earn some income.’
Mahomed noted that ‘contemporary dance is a dynamic social movement that is central to the heartbeat of a nation that has to still grapple with the challenges of transformation and democratisation. Our artists at this year’s festival will once again boldly engage with themes of human rights, social justice, and gender violence as well as how the physical distancing caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forces us to rethink how we reconstitute our lives, our society, our nation and our place in the global community.’
Festival Director and Performance Studies lecturer Dr Lliane Loots said, ‘At a time in our history in South Africa, when dance is collapsing and artists are literally starving, in the absence of any sustained coherent governmental support of our sector (at either a regional or national level), JOMBA! is deeply gratified to have offered commissions to nine local KZN based dance makers whose digital dance offering will be available for viewing on our JOMBA! website. May DIGITAL JOMBA! 2020, remind you of what we need to fight for – for artists, dancers and choreographers who carry our memories.’
The opening night featured JOMBA! Digital Edge, that looked at nine Durban and Pietermaritzburg dance-makers, who continue to make waves on the local dance scene. They were asked to create short dance films around the theme of Intimacies of Isolation. They include Durban dancers Jabu Siphika, Kristi-Leigh Gresse, Leagan Peffer, Nomcebisi Moyikwa, Sandile Mkhize, Sifiso Kitsona Khumalo, Tshediso Kabulu, and Zinhle Nzama, and Pietermaritzburg’s Tegan Peacock.
Flatfoot Dance Company’s Siphika’s solo piece Ya kutosha, is an intimate and terrifying exploration of gender-based violence and what it means to be trapped in the home.
Another solo work Fellow… created by award-winning and edgy dance-maker Gresse explores an artist’s state of mind in isolation and is a journey through this maze in search of light.
Neo-classical wonder-person Peffer’s Kairos presents a personal journey in a solo that delves into the confluence of passion and purpose. The work interrogates how life enables us to confront struggle in love, anger, deceit, and loss as well as in failure.
Moyikwa’s work, U n g a n y a k u m, is an experimental multidisciplinary ‘contemplation; a devotion and a prayer decomposed. It is an engagement with silence – demonstrated by blank spaces, an intentioned meditation that seeks evidence for the question: What does it mean to insist not to die?’
One of Durban’s hidden dance gems, Mkhize (Phakama Dance Company) seeks ‘history, forefathers, revolution, and ways of being under COVID-19 and our humanity’ in his work, Time which he performs with Cue Ngema.
Walls is a deeply intimate exploration of a father-daughter relationship set against the separation imposed by COVID-19 and the lockdown and created and performed by Khumalo (Flatfoot Dance Company) and his daughter, Lethiwe Zamantungwa Nzama. Lethiwe has been a regular at many JOMBA! Youth Fringes and makes her professional debut in this work.
Pietermaritzburg dance stalwart, Peacock has created a short film called Control – Alt – Delete which offers intimate insight into the struggle with control or the loss of it. ‘Both internally and externally our lives have been radically altered and everyone is fighting to regain control and find a new normality,’ she said. For this piece, she collaborated with artist Jono Hornby.
Dynamic dancer and choreographer, Kabulu’s work, Space of Colour is an unflinching look at race and its intersection with class and poverty, and the uneven distribution of power and resources in South Africa, set against the backdrop of isolation and the COVID pandemic. Kabulu and Motlatsi Khotle perform this work with poetry by Khwezi Becker and music by Anelisa Stuurman.
Finally, Nzama (Flatfoot Dance Company) performing with Kirsty Ndawo offers Shadow that looks at friendship and the validation of always having someone there for you, even when you cannot hold hands in a world that now asks for distancing.
JOMBA will run off the website, jomba.ukzn.ac.za. All platforms are free of charge and a full programme is available on the website.