To enjoy the full Mail & Guardian online experience: please upgrade your browser
27 Feb 2015 00:00
"Ngizwe" is a piece by Sonia Radebe of Johannesburg’s most established contemporary dance company, Moving Into Dance Mophatong (MIDM), and Jennifer Dallas from Canada. (Remofilwe Sebobe)
What does it take to compile, curate and nurture a contemporary dance festival in Johannesburg for 27 years? Probably more luck and courage than anything pragmatic.
Georgina Thomson, artistic director of the Dance Umbrella Festival, has demonstrated all of the above. And this year’s festival, which started on February 26 and runs until March 15, is arguably the finest it has been for several years.
The festival has been through the mill in terms of temperamental funding and it has weathered some identity crises.
But Dance Umbrella has been rethought. The nature of contemporary dance must reflect the ethos of its time. It’s a medium that can be unbelievably beautiful, as it can be deathly boring.
A festival of contemporary dance is notorious for being a “lucky-packet’”experience, particularly when there are new works emerging into the spotlight – you find yourself watching a mix of sweets and sours.
In Dance Umbrella’s reconstruction, the Stepping Stones aspect – a platform for new voices – has been scrapped.
Said Thomson: “It was a fringe in which various companies used to bring in young dancers; slowly it evolved into more of a community-focused thing, which is not a problem in itself. The problem arose over the past five years or so, when the same work kept coming back.”
She realised that “these people are having fun. They love Stepping Stones but they don’t want to take their work to the next critical level, which is what Stepping Stones aimed at. So we’ve replaced it with Street Dance, a project comprising pantsula and hip-hop. Matthews Manamela, David April and Sifiso Kweyama have travelled all over the province auditioning groups.”
Looking through the programme, there are distinct themes. These didn’t form part of the initial commissioning agenda. Women choreographers predominate and there’s a confrontation with masculinity in a world that has loved and maltreated its women. These pieces promise to add to the discipline’s litany, and to the audience’s experience.
With only 17 works on its two-week programme, it’s a festival small enough to be manageable and big enough to offer rich diversity. But there are non-negotiable must-sees:
Aimed at tossing you hither and yon, the Dance Umbrella Festival is a highlight in Johannesburg’s diary. Its importance for the genre’s future is unequivocal.
Create Account | Lost Your Password?