Pictures: John Hogg/Dance Umbrella

At the opening of Dance Umbrella 2018, artistic director Georgina Thomson announced that this year’s festival would be the final one because of a lack of funding.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, and, in essence, being nothing less than a national treasure for South African dancers, this came as a tremendous shock.

However, it was only in the light of the two masterpieces by Gregory Maqoma and Vincent Mantsoe, presented on the opening programme, that the measure of this travesty truly hit home.

Both these choreographers, now international successes and pioneers in African contemporary dance, admit to Dance Umbrella having been not only a launchpad for their careers, but also a platform that consistently provided them with vital exposure in establishing their careers.

Both Maqoma’s Mayhem and Mantsoe’s Gula Matari, in respectively idiosyncratic but poignant and sadly ironic ways, commented on the loss that the dance fraternity is facing.

Mayhem depicts a world (our present society) which has, because of our own doing, become void of the beauty that is meant to be inherent to human life. It speaks of disillusionment, anxiety, paranoia, disappointment, fear and chaos.Is the demise of a society’s artistic expression not symptomatic of exactly this?

The Vuyani Dance Theatre gives a spectacular performance.

Gula Matari by Vincent Mantsoe, performed by Mantsoe with Gregory Maqoma. Bottom: Mayhem by Maqoma with his Vuyani Dance Theatre. Picture: John Hogg

Maqoma’s work is evident that Afrofusiondance, in its merging of traditional African movement with the techniques of Western contemporary dance, has superseded its objective in establishing a genre of contemporary dance that is distinctively African, and on par with the latest developments in international dance.

Maqoma’s African expressionism is as fundamental as what Pina Bausch’s expressionism was for Germany.

Mantsoe choreographed the multi-award-winning Gula Matari in 1993. This enigmatic work, choreographed with a sublime sense of the magical presence of nature, remains nothing less than remarkable.

Pictures: John Hogg/Dance Umbrella

It reminds us that the calibre of South African dance that has evolved is to be unreservedly supported.

The significant line-up of Maqoma and Mantsoe protégés entering the Dance Umbrella for the first time this year amplifies Thomson’s announcement of its demise as a catastrophe.

Dance Umbrella runs until 18 March.