The year may still be young, but meaningful international artistic exchange with (dancing) legs is happening in Joburg.
In Newtown, Vuyani Dance Theatre has been hosting the inaugural South African part of Dance Dialogues Africa (DDA), a two-year German Federal Cultural Foundation-funded project co-ordinated by the Hellerau Theatre in Dresden, Kampnagel in Hamburg, and Tanzhaus NRW in Düsseldorf.
DDA has identified profes-sional partners on the continent – Maqoma’s VDT in Joburg, Faustin Linyekula’s Studios Kabako in Kinshasa and Panaibra Gabriel Canda’s Culturarte in Maputo.
Brazzaville’s Florent Mahoukou and his Studio Maho have as part of Danse l’Afrique Danse!, and now DDA, collaborated with Maqoma in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa.
This initiative is determined not to repeat the mistakes of past cultural exchanges. It has many often-neglected aspects of contemporary African dance development to address.
The staff exchange component started in January. VDT general manager Lebo Mekomele was based for two weeks in Hamburg, where she experienced Kampnagel Theatre management operations.
At the same time, dance dramaturg Carmen Mehnert – performing arts director of Dresden’s Hellerau and a co-producer of DDA – applied her dramaturgy to Mahoukou and Maqoma’s Wake Up at VDT.
Another facet of the exchange is that each professional identifies young choreographers, who would take their work to tour the German theatres in 2014.
Maqoma chose The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative’s (FATC) Fana Tshabalala and his profoundly nuanced masculine duet Between Us.
Both works had a showing at the Dance Factory on February 9. The next day, Mehnert led a dramaturgical workshop attended by Stash the Suitcase Collective’s Kieron Jina, Moving into Dance Mophatong’s Sonia Radebe and VDT’s Luyanda Sidiya, Lulu Mlangeni, Wesley Mabizela and Teresa Mojela.
In Auckland Park, at the University of Johannesburg’s Con Cowan Theatre, a very special reunion is happening between Russia’s Dialogue Dance Company from Kostroma (300km north-east of Moscow) and Mzansi’s FATC.
Ivan Estegneev and Evgeny Kulagin were originally connected to FATC’s PJ Sabbagha and Tracy Human through the Ford Foundation-funded Dance Traffic Africa/Russia in 2007.
The artist-to-artist exchange began when Sabbagha’s Back, that glorious duet co-created with Dada Masilo and Lulu Mlangeni, was invited to Estegneev and Kulagin’s 2008 Diversia International Festival of Dance Duets.
The collaboration continued in 2009, when the Russian duo returned to co-create the highly acclaimed, elegantly vibrant Zebra, commissioned by the 2009 FNB Dance Umbrella, which travelled to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and then toured Russia.
This ongoing relationship (which continued at Diversia in 2010) has upped a notch.
Without any formal funding, the Russian dance-theatre makers have spent the past two weeks creating IM Munity for the seven FATC dancers, who now include Nosiphiwo Samente (newly arrived from VDT). This creation premieres on Friday.
Dancer-choreographers Ivan Teme and Tshabalala then leave for Diversia 2013, where they will perform Back, transposed to their male bodies, in collaboration with Sabbagha.
Diversia co-founders are very excited that for the first time, after the Kostroma edition, a pick of six duets (which includes Back) will be presented in Moscow.
Last year the Dialogue Dance team created Alibi for a big provincial Russian dance company.
They have used the same physical strategy for IM Munity, which plays with the concepts of the personal and the communal.
In a media preview creative-process session in the UJ Studio, Sabbagha explained how guest dance makers “attack a concep-tual idea relentlessly, physically”.
Kulagin has videoed every minute of improvised movement (a cornerstone of both companies), developed from tasks given to the dancers. The 45-minute work is constructed from the edited footage. The musical score is developed in Moscow from the performers’ voices recorded at Bassline.
Nothing familiar has been allowed during this exacting process in pursuit of “the beauty they don’t know”.
Estegneev tells the prostrate mortals: “You must be like a pill in the water. After five minutes there’s no body anymore, just space.”
“Yoh!” exclaims an exhausted dancer at the end of the sequence.