Jomba’s free online feast of dance

 Members of Netherlands dance company Introdans, which will grace the Jomba! festival with neo-classical work created before lockdown that never quite had a life on stage. Picture by Hans Geritsen.

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SOUTH Africa’s benchmark dance festival, the Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience, presented by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, this year celebrates its 22nd year with its first digital edition. This will go online, and be available free to a global audience, from August 15 to September 6.

“It is clear that we will not be able to deliver a festival in the same manner as previous years,” explains the event’s artistic director, Lliane Loots. “COVID-19 has shifted the arts world very significantly and in this fragile environment, dance – still defined as a full-contact ‘sport’ – remains separated from rehearsal spaces, theatre venues and various sites.

“The somatic, visceral body is absent right now, we believe, as a holding block for future embodied work – but we can still offer dance-makers, dance-lovers and audiences space to engage serious, beautiful and important new dance-making via a revisioned Jomba! 2020.”

This year’s Jomba! is a carefully curated explosion of dance and conversions about dance-making, offering both a look back at some iconic dance works and dance-makers, but it also significantly looks forward to exploring what dance can be in a digital space and a digital time.

Njabulo Zungu and Snethemba Khuzwayo in a dance work by Musa Hlatshwayo.

This year’s Jomba! offers seven vibrant platforms for audiences to engage:

Jomba! Legacy, celebrating 21 years of Jomba!, features nine key dance-makers from all over the globe who have had a significant impact on making Jomba! the premier contemporary dance festival in Africa. This is a rare opportunity to look back and celebrate some of the world’s most iconic dance-makers who have shared work on Jomba! stages.

Gregory Maqoma and Musa Hlatshwayo are featured from South Africa; dissenting and remarkable Robyn Orlin shares work she has made with Johannesburg-based Moving into Dance Mophatong; and the exquisite feminist artistry of India’s Anita Ratnam is featured in her challenging revision of Indian mythology.

Long-time Jomba! guest, Introdans from The Netherlands, grace the festival with neo-classical work made before lockdown, that never quite had a life on stage. In an on-going partnership with the US Consulate, two remarkable American dance companies that have had a huge impact on Jomba! over the years are also featured; both coming from Durban’s twin cities of Chicago and New Orleans – Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre from Chicago and Leslie Scott’s New Orleans BodyArt Dance Company.

The Jomba! Digital Edge has provided grants to nine Durban dance-makers, who continue to make waves on the local dance scene. They have created short dance films that will premiere on the opening night of the festival, and will be available to view on the Jomba! website for the duration of the festival.

The dance-makers were asked to work loosely around the theme of “Intimacies of Isolation” and there were interesting differences in modalities of filming, from cellphones to cameras. Featured choreographers are Jabu Siphika, Kristi-Leigh Gresse, Leagan Peffer, Nomcebisi Moyikwa, Sandile Mkhize, Sifiso Kitsona Khumalo, Tegan Peacock, Tshediso Kabulu and Zinhle Nzama.

Continuing its partnership with the US, Jomba! has this year invited guest American-based curators Lauren Warnecke, Peter Chu, Rachel Miller and Tara Aisha Willis to put together a collection of “Dance on Screen” films in a one-hour package of short dance films that explore the length and breadth of film dance in the United States.

Deeply Rooted’s Parallel Lives. Photo by Michelle Reid.

The Digital Jomba! Fringe showcases 18 African-based dance-makers’ work from an open application process. Jomba! will award prizes to the top three dance films in this section.

Four globally significant dance-makers who have embraced digital dance-making under lockdown will host a live conversation around their work and what it means to have made this shift, in a programme called Conversations…Dance in a Digital Age. Featured choreographers/dancers are Vincent Mantsoe (South Africa/France), Jürg Koch (Switzerland), Themba Mbuli (South Africa) and Ongiege Matthew (Kenya). Both Mbuli and Matthew will offer the world premiere of their new ‘lockdown’ dance works on this Jomba! platform.

Once again the Jomba! blog and digital newspaper – Jomba! Khuluma – will involve the on-going support of dance writing and dance criticism through a series of closed webinars/seminars for graduate dance students.

After years of photographing Jomba! works, Durban photographer  Val Adamson will share her work in an exhibition – 21 Years of Jomba! Through The Lens. This not only honours Adamson’s extraordinary photographic eye, but it is also a moment of visually remembering the festival’s history through her evocative capturing of dance on stage with her Nikon cameras.

The digital Jomba! is to be made available at the website, jomba.ukzn.ac.za. All platforms for 2020 are free of charge and a full programme is available via the website. For more information and updates on the programme visit Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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