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Rebellion & Johannesburg Dances on Political Monuments

Rebellion & Johannesburg is the dance choreographer’s literal interpretation of the state of the nation on the dance floor, a choreography of the everyday life in the city of Johannesburg.

The dance extravaganza is based loosely on the Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet as the name suggests. But Nupen’s retelling of the tragic love story is perhaps a metaphor of her own personal love story with the city of Johannesburg in particular and South Africa in general.

The opening sequence of the high energy performance puts you squarely in the grip of the madness of a city obsessed with power. From the cacophony or activities in the cities taxi ranks to the cat calls spewing through the two forked tongues of the city’s soothsayers dressed as Sangomas or traditional healers who offer the audience everything from skin-lightning creams , to love potions or cures for heart attacks.

Perhaps the most exciting segment of the performance, which also received a wild applause from the audience, was a section in which dancers from the Moving into Dance (MID) company twerked suggestively to a multimedia projection of the now infamous South African parliamentary sessions in which in the word “Honourable” has all but lost its true meaning.

The dancers shadows party in a parliament dotted with the now ubiquitous red uniforms worn by members of the Economic Freedom Fighter’s (EFF) once a beacon of home but now perceived to be a rogue political party whose aim is to disrupt parliamentary proceedings at every turn. The dancers express their patriotism well in a show of a mix of local dance moves from Is’pansula, traditional dancing and the more modernised “stwhetla” or “twerking”. Their movements are fluid and openly breath-taking making it difficult for you to resist the urge to stand up and do a twist and turn of your own on the spot, the way most South Africans do when they lose themselves to the beat.

For Nupen, who has been living in Germany for the past 13 years the piece is about showcasing a culture of rebellion and the conflict inherent in South African culture and society which has permeated every sphere of society from the emergence of train-surfers, to Skhothane’s, high walls, violence and crime. Nupen’s intention was to also give voice to the struggle of the “lost generation” of young South Africans who were not old enough to be part of the struggle against Apartheid or young enough to be considered “born-free”. A generation still seeking to find an identity of their own in a city that is fast changing and can suck the blood from your veins and then use it to fuel the feet of those who will dance, in celebration, on top of your grave.

Romeo & Juliet – Rebellion&Johannesburg is an ambitious project which borrows everything from everywhere much like the city of Johannesburg itself. There is a lot to take in from the piece which offer the eye a feast from the stage props made of newspaper headlines, and black garbage bags and hoola hoops, to video projection of the city of Johannesburg, including the city’s landscapes such as Ponte Tower, to the colourful rag like costumes to the dance itself and running commentary from the radio on events around the Marikana massacre on August 16 2012.

It’s hard to find a place to fix your eyes and rest on an idea. This may make the piece appear to be a haphazard jumble of ideas instead of the well thought out piece which Nupen says took 18 months to research.

The piece which has already toured Germany in 2015, offers nothing new to South African audiences already familiar with the edgy choreography of daily life in the city of Johannesburg. It merely re-iterates what we already know about the South African state of the nation in an energetic and entertaining way.


  • Dance Umbrella runs until March 6. For the full programme visit


By: Jedi Ramalapa

  • Ramalapa is a participant in the Dance Writer’s Workshop funded by the Goethe-Institut.

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