Latoya Newman

DURBAN’s Flatfoot Dance Company has done the local industry proud yet again by being invited to Chicago in the US for a three-week collaboration and partnership with Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre (DRDT).

In the long run, it is also hoped that some of the youths from disadvantaged communities who are involved in Flatfoot’s development programmes will be able to go to Chicago for training.

This follows a visit by DRDT to last year’s Jomba! dance festival, when they served as cultural ambassadors for the US.

This also led to a two-week collaboration in August with Flatfoot, which saw the American team teaching in Flatfoot’s various dance development programmes and sharing their repertoire with Flatfoot. The two companies performed a piece, The dance we dance, at the Jomba! festival.

Lliane Loots, Flatfoot’s artistic director, said the relationship was further cemented in February when Iega Jeff (artistic director of DRDT) returned to Durban for a month-long residency.

Loots and three of the Flatfoot dancers (Sifiso Majola, Jabu Siphika and Sifiso Khumalo) leave for Chicago on July 3 for their residency, which involves dance training and classes with DRDT and Flatfoot in a skills sharing programme.

Loots will also begin working, alongside Jeff and Gary Abbott of DRDT, with a joint choreographic work while in Chicago with the two companies.

In an interview with Tonight Loots explained that the artistic collaboration was the beginning of what was hoped to go on for at least three years.

“This collaboration has been imagined with a three-year life. The first was DRDT coming to Durban for Jomba! in 2013 and the partnership with Flatfoot set up through UKZN’s Centre for Creative Arts.

“This was followed by the return trip of Iega to Durban in February… in July we travel to Chicago to meet with DRDT in their home city and to begin a joint choreographic collaboration between myself and Gary Abbott and Iega.

“We will work with dancers of both companies – a very challenging and exciting project.

“Iega will return to Durban in February 2015 where he will once again work as an artist in residence with Flatfoot for the month, and then, the big final meeting, we hope, will be DRDT returning to Jomba! in 2015 to perform our joint work,” she explained.

Loots said to sustain the relationship was easy on the work and artistic front.

“One needs an open heart and a lot of data to Skype often,” she joked, adding: “With all partnerships there are huge periods of learning where we find what we share and what we don’t share; and then we see if we have enough fight to push the art work…

“With Iega and Gary, I have been incredibly blessed to meet two men who totally understand the social activism in contemporary dance making, and so the rest is easy.

“The biggest challenge is always the funds needed to sustain such long-distance connections.

“DRDT worked tirelessly to fund our trip to the US, as we were unable to push support through our own South African and Durban connections – painful really, as Durban and Chicago are in fact twin cities…

“This is why only four of the Flatfoot company are going; at the last minute we lost support for all eight of the company being able to travel to Chicago.

“This said, though, we go representing Flatfoot’s vision, and in the end, our beautiful city of Durban.”

She added that such international connections were useful in that they opened up a kind of global dance world to Durban, and to Flatfoot. “It is a chance to learn and, with grace, to realise that despite lack of funding and structural support, we here in South Africa are really doing something right.”

Deeply Rooted and Flatfoot share a similar objective in terms of developing dance at community level. We asked Loots if there were any plans or hopes, at this stage, of getting a collaboration going on their respective youth projects.

“Yes… when Iega was here in February he began making a new dance work with our ADD Flatfoot Dance Programme.

“This programme has 16 youths from KwaMashu, Newlands and Umlazi who have been carefully selected because of their growing skill as young dancers.

“The ADD programme offers intensive training for these youths with the hope that they might take up jobs with Flatfoot in the professional company or go on to find work in other professional environments as skilled and well-trained dancers.

“We hope Iega will continue to feed into their training and we have begun to discuss the possibility of finding some bursary support for these youths to go to Chicago for three-month training residencies.”