Trafficked. Picture: Supplied

The South African State Theatre’s annual Youth Expression Festival this year marks its 10th anniversary of empowering youth talent in South Africa.

Since its inception in 2008 the festival has stood the test of time by continuing to challenge youth to tell more stories, and create and present works in their mother tongues. 

The Youth Expressions Festival is directed towards empowering young people while remembering the essence of Youth Month in South Africa. 

This festival is a celebration of the youth’s creative spirit that remembers the past, while reflecting on the current state of affairs and interrogating the hopes for tomorrow. A vital platform for the youth to express themselves artistically, it showcases various forms of art including dance, drama, comedy, music, poetry and visual art.

The festival has been instrumental in launching the professional careers of a number of young artists. This year is no exception.

Choreographer Yusuf Thomas makes his professional choreographic debut at this year’s festival with his full length work, Trafficked.

Trafficked. Picture: Carl Ballot

Trafficked is a thematic dance work telling the narrative of human trafficking not only from an African, but global perspective. The work addresses social ills related to topics such as recent killings of young women, feminism, patriarchy, cyber dating as well the perpetuation of human trafficking in the name of the old-aged traditional custom known as Ukuthwala. 

It does this while creating an allegory between different modes of transportation to the nature in which trafficked victims are treated and sold across the globe.

It is refreshing to see the work of a young choreographer whose choreography demands a high level of technical proficiency. Thomas works within a contemporary vocabulary, and eclectically takes from African dance and classical ballet to create a style which is technically demanding and stylistically intricate. At a time when many choreographers evade vocabulary that requires technical training (mostly due to a lack of training themselves), Thomas’ work is inspiring.

Trafficked. Picture: Carl Ballot

As is often the case with many young choreographers, Thomas storms into the work with an arsenal of steps and ideas, and floods the stage with jam-packed dance combinations, containing countless steps that do not contribute to the revealing of his message.

The choreography becomes frantic and unmotivated, burying the narrative under piles of unnecessary steps. 

In moments when he calms down and simplifies the work to only that which is necessary, such as a beautiful section with three couples, each in a spotlight, giving expression to the act of abuse, he manages to capture his audience in meaningful, dramatic and sensitive expressions.

Trafficked. Picture: Carl Ballot

Thomas works intelligently, but in order to convey the tragedy of such a dramatic theme, it is important for him to consider a more minimalistic approach which hits home without a fuss.

Thomas’ cast of recent dance graduates impress. The ensemble consists of Winnie-sue Moboea, Stephanie Wright, Tshepo Mokoena, Sherizaan Crosson, Mandla Mokoena and Steven Mokone.

One looks forward to witnessing the development of this talented and promising young choreographer.