Jazzart Dance Company have just returned from King William’s Town where they collaborated with the Steve Biko Foundation to create a dance piece that revisits the contemporary relevance of the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement and his quest for a true humanity.

DIRECTED by Mandla Mbothwe, the performance features choreography by Jacqueline Manyaapelo, Ina Wichterich-Mogane and Mzokuthula Gasa.

Jazzart artistic director, Manyaapelo said the company also had a hand in the choreography, as was the standard operating procedure for the Cape Townbased dance theatre group.

“They create the material. The cast has to possess the material, it can’t sit with the director or choreographer alone,” she explained.

The company travelled to King William’s Town at the end of July to collaborate with Mbothwe on the new performance piece that opened in the space in the Steve Biko Centre, which will soon house a photographic display of the life and times of the anti-apartheid activist.

The display is called The Quest for a True Humanity and it was created by the Steve Biko Foundation, the Department of Education and the Apartheid Museum.

Dancers did their research as they visited the monuments and spaces around King William’s Town (such as his home in Ginsburg township) devoted to Biko to create the contemporary dance piece.

“Being in that space and going to the place he lived in and his graveyard, it gave us a richer experience.

“People there have a very personal and strong relationship with these spaces and it speaks to the kind of person he was and how loved he was by people. That doesn’t disappear just because the person is dead,” explained Manyaapelo.

While there is a suggestion of a narrative, the piece does not follow a strict chronology or feature specific characters. It doesn’t concentrate solely on Biko, bringing in the experiences of people killed in detention by using recordings of the dancers quoting Biko and also giving the names of detainees.

“We look at the story behind the philosophy of Black Consciousness as it pertains to today’s young people,” she said about the impetus for the piece.

When they first started speaking to Mbothwe about doing the piece and bandied around names, they asked themselves “what exactly did Biko want to achieve?”.

“And then we asked ‘what exactly is our own quest?’ We want an engaging audience who will question both. We want people to talk about it afterwards.”

“How can you ignore someone who said ‘It is better to die for an idea that will live than to live for an idea that will die’.

“I can’t ignore things like that.

“Yes, he was an intellectual, but if we listen to what he said and not just place him in a box as an intellectual, more than ever we need to speak about that.”

The 16 dancers spent all of last week rehearsing at Artscape to tailor the piece to the new space, and Manyaapelo doesn’t discount turning it into a site-specific performance: “It’s an adaptable piece.”

• Biko’s Quest is on at the Artscape Theatre until Sunday.