In many respects 2011 has been a bumper year for dance in the golden city of eThekweni.
We were delighted with numerous Russian ballet troupes leaping through the air and, most especially, on the ballet front, saw the welcome return of local ballet with the visit of Gauteng’s Mzansi Productions collaboration with Brazilian dancers in the form of the full-length Don Quixote.
Shall We Dance continued its uninterrupted vision of being unashamedly and wonderfully popularist and one of the few Durban dance events that always totally sells out.
This year’s Jomba! contemporary dance festival brought Africa to Durban in unprecedented editions that allowed us to watch Democratic Republic of Congo’s Faustin Linyekula, Nigeria’s Adedayo Liadi and South Africa’s Gregory Maqoma.
In a funding-scarce environment, and with an art form that is often regarded as a bit of an orphan, we have been truly spoiled for choice.
But on the dark side, the year has seen deaths and losses of local dancers and choreographers; often in situations of severe poverty.
During this year Durban has marked the deaths of dancers Eric Shabalala, Hugo le Roux and, most recently, Nobuhle Khawula. There were no state funerals, no city remembrances for dance practitioners that have spent their lives adding to eThekwini’s cultural life and cultural mapping.
In some cases, families lacked sufficient funds to bury their children and I am left thinking that, perhaps, we are failing our city’s artists.
In a climate of political speak that urges job creation, the local arts are finding creative ways to allow citizens to be employed. This is not a hand-out culture but one that respects hard work and dedication.
Perhaps we could lobby to get Cosatu interested in representing the rights of the cultural worker... and maybe begin to argue for better conditions of service?
Maybe just the introduction of a fund that allows a dignified burial when we lose one of our own?
Imagine a city that is in the grips of a cultural strike – no music, no galleries, no craft work, no comedy, no dance, no theatre? And if it is true that arts and culture are the conscience of a nation, how does it figure when our art and dance start to disappear?
I return to my rallying, and perhaps unpopular cry, to all: if you can do nothing else to keep culture alive in an overwhelming sea of loss, make a New Year’s commitment in 2012, to pay for your theatre, dance, film and art tickets.
Don’t accept or ask for complimentary tickets – go to the theatre wanting to pay. The conscience of our nation depends on it! = The Mercury