Long lauded for his work in dance in South Africa, Alfred Hinkel is the much deserved introductory winner of the new ACT Lifetime Achievement Award for Dance, sponsored by JTI.
The story begins with a young child, a boy named Alfred Hinkel who wanted to be an anthropologist in the Northern Cape. But, without the ability to finance further studies he had to find another dream; a dream that he had always had but one that had lain dormant beneath the socioeconomic stresses of growing up in a rural town. ‘I had pictures in my head,’ Hinkel says, ‘of ballet dancers and what I wanted to be.’ Alfred Hinkel is now 68 years old and the winner of the newly launched ACT Lifetime Achievement Award for Dance. He says that ‘one is flattered by the recognition because an enormous amount of work has been done, but it has never been the work of one person.’
Working, now, in the town where he grew up, Hinkel has established a new name for himself and his hometown, by doing work that is steeped in community. ‘I certainly cannot take all the credit,’ he emphatically says – as though bewildered that the award should only go to his name – because, ‘my partner and I have returned to the Northern Cape where we were both born.’ He speaks using the term ‘we’ with regard to his achievements because he and John Linden have worked together for years and so he shares the acclaim of their achievements together.
Hinkel and Linden’s dream also starts with a story: ‘A young kid will walk into class and you see their response to a task that you’ve created and you see a spark. You see the potential and it’s all potential at that age.’ You see the potential of the future of a community in a young child’s eyes. He finds the timing of the ACT Lifetime Achievement Award fortuitous because he has just registered the new Garage Dance Ensemble or Garage as the latest NPO that he and Linden are working on in Okiep in Namaqualand. Because of the lack of opportunities in the Northern Cape they are trying to create a space that will instil discipline and not only ‘create some of the best contemporary dancers in the country’ but also create employment. If not all those who are trained become dancers then they will have gone through a rigorous training process that aims to shift minds and deepen the ethos of hard work toward any life goal.
The confidence to develop such a space comes from many years of having achieved life-changing results in the lives of the dancers that they have taught. Hinkel was the artistic director of Jazzart Dance Theatre from 1986 to 2010. During his tenure the company grew to become one of the most renowned dance troupes and training facilities in the country’s history. Hinkel knows his capabilities after decades of success in the industry. He has also seen how much possibility there is in Namaqualand. He says, ‘We have a minimum of 200 to 300 people in the audience and not a lot of big city companies can do that.’ The idea behind Garage is that it will work in a more compact manner than that of Jazzart. He and Linden have a winning formula. He says, ‘John and I decided to come back and make it our business to develop something big here. We felt it was time now to create art of a particular standard in rural areas and not just big cities.’
“One is flattered by the recognition because an enormous amount of work has been done but it has never been the work of one person”
At the moment he and Linden have discovered an apprentice whom they say is ‘so superior, so advanced [in comparison] to what we were able to do at 24.’ Byron Adelaide is their latest prodigy in a long line of dancers who have gone on to illustrious careers through their training. ‘It’s our last lap,’ he says portentously. ‘So South Africa gets liberated! That’s only the start of the work. It’s not over by any stretch of the imagination.’
He has received an ACT Lifetime Achievement Award at the ACT Awards, hosted by Sun International, and there is a sense that this is the final lap of a long and well-run race but ‘we will work until our last drop.’ He stops to observe that he is sitting under the picture of Luthando Mzolo, a former student whose photo was taken by his niece, and who was sadly shot and killed at age 19. He says that this is the worst of the instances of loss to the country but this is why he does what he does: for young people to have hope.