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Thami Tshabalala interrogates themes of spirituality, religion in new dance piece 'Isenyuso'

Thamsanqa “Thami” Tshabalala. Picture: Supplied

Thamsanqa “Thami” Tshabalala. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 31, 2022


Naledi Award nominee Thamsanqa “Thami” Tshabalala interrogates issues of spirituality, lineage, religion, ancestors and land in his new contemporary dance piece titled “Isenyuso”.

This stirring dance piece premieres at the Kucheza Afrika Festival at the State Theatre on Tuesday, April 5.

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Following his successful Vienna-Austria tour of Dada Masilo’s “The Sacrifice” in August 2021, Tshabalala is thrilled to showcase his new body of work.

“Isenyuso”, which is derived from “ascension” in isiZulu, details a global narrative of individual injustice, liberty, representation and the preservation of heritage.

Inspired by life, Tshabalala was moved by a painting at a gallery in France that depicted a black man figuratively carrying his life on his shoulders; his inheritance, his ancestors, his family’s expectations.

The art piece resonated with Tshabalala as he saw himself in this picture – being a queer man of colour living in a society of sometimes unreasonable expectations, but also trying to balance being true to his roots and the importance of tradition.

“I was on a tour in France and I was having a bad day. So I decided to take a walk around the city.

“As I was walking by a gallery, I saw this incredible image of this man pulling a suitcase with ropes. For me, this man was carrying baggage that is from his ancestors, lineages and his past,” recalled Tshabalala.

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“The work details the indoctrination that was insinuated onto the man of colour, on how he must live and the kind of customs he should abide by, and how he should conduct himself in this global narrative but completely just disregarding him as a human being. After all, we are human beings first before we are anything.”

“Isenyuso” is also influenced by the book “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. The story chronicles the life of Okonkwo, an Igbo man and local wrestling champion in the fictional Nigerian tribe of Umuofia.

Thamsanqa “Thami” Tshabalala. Picture: John Hogg

He was empowered by the notion of superiority and toxic masculinity which became his downfall and led him astray from the genuine essence of being his true desired self.

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“He (Okwonkwo) was empowered by the notion of superiority, preserving culture and heritage, and resisting the world of the missionaries that invaded Africa. He foresaw the indoctrination and depletion of the people of the Igbo clan and their beliefs,” explained Tshabalala.

“So, the production also interrogates the invasion of the missionaries into Africa. As the famous Desmond Tutu quote states, the missionaries came to Africa, gave us the Bible, then told us to close our eyes and pray.

“And while we were praying with our eyes shut, they were busy taking our land and everything that belonged to us. So I believe this piece will resonate with many because the narrative is too close to home.”

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Now in its third instalment, Kucheza Afrika Festival aims to be a platform that will help preserve dance in South Africa and the rest of the continent.

As part of the festival, Tshabalala will also offer masterclasses on contemporary dance on April 6 from 10am to noon.

“I'm really excited because it’s my first time presenting alongside industry giants, Gregory Maqoma and Vincent Mantsoe among others.

“I’ll be giving a really fresh perspective on contemporary dance. I'll be talking about what is relevant to me, as a contemporary artist, choreographer and curator. So I'm looking forward to the workshops and people should just come in and just explore the art of body movement.”

Kucheza Afrika Festival is set to take place at the State Theatre from Friday, April 1, to Tuesday, April 10.

Tickets are available at Webtickets from R80 to R150.

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