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THE 15th annual Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience opened last week with audiences treated to B.L.E.N.D, a joint work by renowned choreographers Desirè Davids of South Africa and Hèlène Cathala of France, as well as The King in Exile, performed by Francisco Camacho of Portugal.
During her opening night speech, artistic director for Jomba! Lliane Loots welcomed the artists and audiences and expressed her “joy” at having the opportunity to open yet another Jomba!, especially in the wake of general challenges in the arts like funding and censorship.
“Our current state takes a grim view of censorship, as this was a stratagem of the past apartheid government, but we are seeing our National Arts Council and our Department of Arts and Culture simply not substantially funding critical arts. This is another way of censoring or silencing contemporary art-makers.
“In a ploy to fund the preservation of heritage (though in and of itself not a bad thing), contemporary art-makers, however, are finding themselves without long-term resources to support their work.
“Universities, too, are endlessly cutting arts programmes where core funds are denied to support the growth and development of critical, questioning arts practitioners and students.
“Learning has become commodified and, let’s be honest, a commodity is best sold when it is neatly packaged and unquestioningly consumed,” she said.
Loots said remembering the lessons from our own liberation history, she was reminded that she personally only got to see a photographic image of Nelson Mandela in 1990.
“Although I had not seen his face or heard him speak due to banning and censorship, Mandela, and his fellow Robben Island prisoners, were not silent and they were not powerless. This is a lesson which keeps me fighting, and so my life as an artist and as an intellectual is by its very nature that of an activist,” said Loots.
“It is up to us to refuse silence and the subtle layers of censorship that are emerging, and to speak oppositional discourse, to challenge and to use our words, our poetry and our choreography, to be the never-silent conscience of a nation seemingly having lost its way. How will history remember me and you here tonight?
“Although art and critical artists may be silenced and their work destroyed, the energy that creates is never destroyed. If we say that critical art is no longer relevant to our lives, then we need to ask ourselves not ‘what has happened to art… but the more profound and difficult question, ‘What has happened to our lives, to our society and to our continent?’,” she added.
Loots thanked the University of KZN and Jomba! partners who have made another fest possible. She also thanked all the artists who are presenting work this year, adding that many of them had come despite a lack of funds and support.
As Jomba! continues this week, wrapping up on September 8, there are a host of contemporary dance works on offer, many of which are set to explore history, challenge the status quo and carve new historical milestones through the art of dance.
Here’s a glance at some of the highlights in the programme this week:
• September 3 and 4: Tea for Two and Another Chopsticks Story, which features Swiss duo T42, made up of dancers Misato Inoue and Félix Duméril. Their dance work is a confrontation with difference and the old ideas that European identity is singular.
• September 5 and 6: A treat for ballet and neo-classical dance lovers, Holland’s magnificent Introdans takes the stage with a programme suitably titled Superstars, which features five choreographies by five of Holland and Europe’s most influential dance makers.
• September 7 and 8: The Chicago-based company, Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre, will stage The Dance We Dance. In a style that oozes memory, and the jazz history of the African American experience, Deeply Rooted will present choreography that threads together some of their key signature dance works.
• Performances take place at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at 7.30pm, tickets are R50 or R35 (pupils/students/pensioners). Booking through Computicket (or at venue from one hour before).