‘Luyanda joined Vuyani in 2010 and Lulu has been with us since 2007,’ says Vuyani Dance Theatre Founder and Director, Gregory Maqoma. ‘When we reqruited Luyanda it was with a very clear intention of taking him into a leadership role. We are very aware, according to our strategy that we are moving towards building a very strong artistic team, so it was about me mentoring him into a position of taking leadership within the artistic department of the company. He started as an artistic assistant and worked himself up to artistic director.’
Maqoma played a very hands-on role in the mentorship of Sidiya. ‘He’s someone I have worked very closely with,’ says Maqoma. ‘In terms of Lulu, we’ve been very conscious of the role of women in a very male dominated space in terms of choreography and leadership in dance,’ says Maqoma. ‘We wanted to bring a woman who could take on that leadership as a choreographer to an elevated position of great leadership within the organisation itself.’
The mentorship is ‘not only about the choreography or just being in the studio, but for them to understand the business model of the organisation in terms of creating relationships with other organisations,’ explains Maqoma.
‘They would go with me to meetings, I would prepare a pitch with them, it is very holistic.’ At the beginning of the year, it was announced that Sidiya would be leaving his role as artistic director to pursue a career as an independent choreographer and director. ‘That’s great,’ says Maqoma talking about Sidiya taking the next step in his career.
The mentorship is about that, about people being given the right support for them to grow and be leaders. I strongly believe that if you have created a leader who can move out of an organisation and start innovating by themselves, creating other organisations that can do similar work to Vuyani Dance Theatre and to be able to contribute to the artistic landscape of the country, then it’s fantastic. Then I believe that we have done the job we put forward to do.
‘However, the position of artistic director will not just simply be filled by someone new,’ says Maqoma. ‘We have created spaces and positions once we feel that a person is ready. Like with Luyanda, the position was created for him at that time. He was the right person to fill that position and we needed that position because I was incredibly busy formulating business strategies for the company. What we have done now is put Lulu in a position of creative assistant, where she will be working very closely with me on the creative side of the organisation.’
While mentorship at VDT is about moving people into roles where they can excel, it is not only available to a chosen few. ‘All the dancers have an opportunity to be mentored in different aspects of their abilities,’ says
Maqoma. ‘We have one dancer who is gifted in terms of writing music, so he is starting to write compositions for our productions. At VDT we capitalise on the strengths of our people and we ensure those strengths are realised. We only have to give them support and allow them to grow within their disciplines.’
The role of mentor does not just belong to Maqoma. ‘Lulu is already mentoring other young dancers,’ he says. ‘Even the dancers that are learning, they go into our outreach programme and mentor other young people, so it’s a continuous cycle and it’s important for them to understand that we do need to continue to mentor each other within the organisation, as much as I continue to be mentored by my board in terms of the business of the organisation itself.’
Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance 2015, Luyanda Sidiya’s choreographed piece Siva will be performed by VDT at the State Theatre from 5 to 14 May. Sidiya’s works have toured to the USA, Canada, China and have been performed at AfroVibes in the Netherlands. Lulu Mlangeni’s first work, Page 27 will show at the SANAA Africa Arts Festival in Johannesburg from 26 to 28 May. Mlangeni won the inaugural Sophie Mgcina Best Emerging Voice Award at the Naledi Theatre Awards in 2014. Most importantly, says Maqoma, ‘we want everyone to be great leaders when they come out of VDT.’