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Tumelo Lekana talks the rise of ‘African ballet’

Tumelo Lekana. Picture: Lauge Sorensen

Tumelo Lekana. Picture: Lauge Sorensen

Published Mar 16, 2022

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Tumelo ‘Tumi’ Lekana celebrates African spirituality, love and healing in his enchanting new dance piece “Legae,” which is set to make its world premiere at the Joburg Theatre on March 25.

“Legae” is part of the new season of “Evolve”, as the Joburg Ballet marks 21 years of phenomenal contemporary and modern dance, to be presented at the Joburg Theatre from March 25 to April 3.

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Lekana is a senior corps de ballet dancer and choreographer who says bringing “Legae” to life is a dream true.

“Not even in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that one day I would stage a piece for an entire ballet company.

“I’m really humbled to be given the opportunity to present Legae, as part of Evolve by Joburg Ballet and to be able to work with talented musicians Gift Thulani Mothusi Lerato Gwebu and Peter Syd Pocket Mothiba, “says Lekana.

Legae, which means home in Setswana, is a sweet tribute Lekana’s mother.

“Legae ke tulu ya lerato la mme (home is the warmth of the mother’s love), so that’s what the piece is about. When I went home in December of 2020, my mother had contracted Covid-19. As the elder sibling, I had to take care of her.

“She fought through it, and she has fully recovered from Covid. Hence, this piece is inspired by and is also dedicated to her. It’s a celebration of my mother’s life.”

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Mario Gaglione, Revil Yon. Picture: Lauge Sorensen

Lekana insists that “Legae” is no ordinary ballet production.

“Legae is very different. In ballet, we use pianists or orchestra, but in Legae, I’m introducing the two unusual elements: drums and music together in the ballet world, and it’s going to be mind-blowing.

“The music, the drums, the costumes - they are very colourful and inviting. And we don’t have solos in this piece because I want everyone to shine. And If anything, I’d like for the audiences to take away with them is humility and the spirit of unity.

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“I am inspired by African music, which is where most of the rhythms come from. I love African dance, and I also love ballet, so I infuse those two together and make magic. So I would refer to my style of choreography as African ballet.”

Savannah Ireland, Monike Cristina, Claudia Monja. Picture: Lauge Sorensen

This Pretoria-born star hopes “Legae” will encourage the much-needed growth and exposure to the ballet dance, particularly in black communities, where ballet is still very foreign.

Lekana started dancing ballet at the late age of 19 at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT).

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“I started dancing Latin and Ballroom dance, then I went into gymnastics thinking it was ballet,” he says in between chuckles.

“It was only when I enrolled at the TUT that I got exposed to ballet, African dance, Jazz, Tap and Contemporary dance. I was 19 at the time, which is extremely late for anyone who wants to take dancing as a profession, as one needs to start learning to dance around at age of seven or nine.

Don’t miss “Legae” at Joburg Theatre from March 25 until April 3.

Related Topics:

Theatre

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