Q&A Luyanda Sidiya: The seeds dance sows

Johannesburg’s contemporary dance highlight in mid-August was unequivocally the Market Theatre’s brief season of Siva.

The work is an electric trip into the notion of god and is a sophisticated reflection on how African and contemporary dance forms writhe and sing in cohesion.

It’s choreographed by this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist winner for dance, Luyanda Sidiya, the artistic director of Vuyani Dance Theatre (VDT) in Johannesburg, and performed by nine dancers and four musicians.

The Mail & Guardian caught up with Sidiya after the opening performance last Thursday evening.

What were Siva’s germinating seeds?

There have been three generations of seeds: first, the influence of Sylvia [Glasser, founder of Moving Into Dance Mophatong]. I love that woman with all my heart. Second, that of Gregory [Maqoma, one of Glasser’s protégés, and the founding director of Vuyani Dance Theatre; he’s also Sidiya’s mentor]. These people gave birth to me. I’m the third generation. Siva’s been a long time growing and coming into its own.

What made you dance for the first time in your life?

I was a teenager. We were poor. My dad wasn’t working, I didn’t have shoes, but then I tried to occupy myself with other things and I saw a play. It was a drama and there was just a little bit of movement and that captivated me so much that I couldn’t breathe … I wanted to join them. They were doing old school acting, Gibson Kente kind of acting. There was music, dance, poetry; I did all of those and they are a still huge influence in my work. If you look at my work today, there is live music, there is spoken word, there is song.

What acknowledgements have you, and Vuyani Dance garnered, of late?

Shortly after I returned from the United Kingdom and joined VDT, we won the Dance Manyano awards in 2011. I won the dancer of the decade award then, and Gregory won for choreography.

This year, our choreography of the stage production Ketekang was nominated for best choreography in this year’s Naledi awards; we’ve just got a nomination from the Dora awards in Canada and another VDT work Exit/Exist also won an award for the best music composition in dance. And then there was the Standard Bank award announcement.

These things don’t just happen. When you go back and connect the dots, you realise nothing is just luck. I’m 33 now – effectively, this work has taken me 33 years to develop.

Do you consider yourself a religious person, given Siva’s focus?

No. I’m just a spiritual person. I believe it doesn’t matter what language is spoken, we can connect. It’s not on the tongue, but through the spirit that we can reach one another. Gerard Bester was my dramaturge. He’s an atheist and he’s my friend.

Knowing I was raised within a Christian family, he and I agreed that this piece is not for religious people. It should accommodate anyone.

In developing it, we debated many issues, and it was uncomfortable at times, but I feel the work would not have been as beautiful if our debates had been easier.

Tell me about Siva travelling to Beijing in November.

I took my work Umnikelo last year to New York to the Fall for Dance Festival. I was sitting in the audience, and this woman was sitting close to me. She saw I was responding to the work, and she said: “Can you please explain the choreography to me afterwards?”

After the show, I told her I was the choreographer and she gasped: “I want that work,” she shrieked. “No discussions. Whatever it will take, I want that work in Beijing.”

It turned out she’s the artistic director of a huge dance festival in Beijing and artistic director of Beijing ballet. It was like God put me next to her. I was shocked. She then said she would love to see my other work. “Is there anything else?” she asked.

I said, “There’s Siva, a new work I’m about to premiere.” She said: “I want that.” Sight unseen. It was the same with James [Ngcobo, artistic director of the Market Theatre]. He hadn’t seen the work, but he said “I’ve been waiting for you to get that award. So listen, it’s on at the Market.” Just like that.

Siva’s season at the Market Theatre was very brief, ending last Saturday; but it does have pencilled in seasons for later this year

Robyn Sassen
Robyn Sassen
A freelance arts writer since 1998, I fell in love with the theatre as a toddler, proved rubbish as a ballerina: my starring role was as Mrs Pussy in Noddy as a seven-year-old, and earned my stripes as an academic in Fine Arts and Art History, in subsequent years. I write for a range of online and print publications, including the Sunday Times, the Mail & Guardian and artslink.co.za and was formerly the arts editor of the SA Jewish Report, a weekly newspaper with which I was associated for 16 years. This blog promises you new stories every week, be they reviews, profiles, news stories or features.
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