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Dance Umbrella 2017

The 29th edition of Dance Umbrella, which takes place at the Wits Theatre Complex in Braamfontein from 23 February to 5 March, spotlights young artists and features 13 commissioned works, 13 new works and six Johannesburg premieres.

Since Dance Umbrella was first launched in 1989, it has seen exceptional growth and is now widely acknowledged as the premier contemporary dance festival in Africa; a showcase of exceptional South African and international dance and performing art. Artistic Director, Georgina Thomson says that this growth can clearly be seen in this year’s programme. ‘At the first Dance Umbrella, only 16 choreographers presented works; at this year’s festival more than 50 new works will be presented and with our focus on predominantly young artists, Dance Umbrella 2017 is proud to present the rich, home-grown talents of these young choreographers.’

Dance Umbrella
Songezo Mcilizeli | Photo by Mkhize Photography 2

The festival opens with Nhlanhla Mahlangu’s The Workers CHANT at the Workers Museum, Newtown on 23 and 24 February at 19:00, followed by Moeketsi Koena and Gaby Saranouffi’s Corps at the Wits Downstairs Theatre on 24 and 25 February at 19:00 and Jazzart Dance Theatre’s new work Space by the artistic director Sifiso Kweyama, at The Wits Theatre on 24 and 25 February at 20:00. Mamela Nyamza’s De-Apart-Hate, a discourse that starts with the struggles of South Africa as a nation without dwelling on race and ideology, at the Wits Amphitheatre on 24 and 25 February at 21:00. The Fringe Programme on 26 February at 10:00 at the Wits Theatre will feature nearly 30 new works from young choreographers. The programme includes Julia Burnham (Vuyani Dance Company), Thembinkosi Puwane (Eastern Cape), Qiniso Zungu and Teresa Mojela and promises to be a discovery of new and exciting contemporary dance and performance. On 28 Feburary and 1 March at the Wits Theatre at 19:00, a triple bill will feature Moving into Dance Mophatong’s Oscar Buthelezi and Sonny Boy Motau’s new works: Stuck Souls (Buthelezi) reflects on the world today as it becomes lost in waste and asks ‘How do we stop this?’ and I am NoT (Motau) speaks to self-discovery and venturing into new and unknown spaces within ourselves: both body and mind, and Vuyani Dance Theatre’s Lulu Mlangeni with the solo Page 27.

Dance Umbrella
Songezo Mcilizeli at DU2011 | Photo by John Hogg

Also on 28 February and 1 March, at the Wits Downstairs Theatre at 20:00, Songezo Mcilizeli will premiere Perspective. Perspective addresses prejudice, stereotypes and politics, says Mcilizeli. ‘The idea of the work is to offer imagery and communicate in the medium of dance. These images are depicted from various occurrences and inspired by people, past, passive and personal experiences including the media as source, in order to interrogate present and future coherency.’ As an upcoming choreographer who has worked with the likes Dada Masilo, PJ Sabbagha and Adele Blank, Mcilizeli finds the inclusion of younger artists on the Dance Umbrella programme encouraging. ‘“Younger voices” may contribute or could provide fresh approach and ideas in maximizing resources also increasing human/artiste capital in our industry and existing programs. Change is constant and constancy provides hope. That in its entirety should be exciting for the dance scene as the voices will become the future.’

Dance Umbrella
Jazzart | Injabulo | Photo by Mark Wessels

Fana Tshabalala collaborates with Constanza Macras/Dorky Park from Berlin, Germany with In The Heart of the Country at the Wits Amphitheatre on 2 and 3 March at 19:00. A physical exploration inspired by the ‘impossible dialogue’ between blacks and whites, in J. M. Coetzee’s literature and Njabulo Ndebele’s book, Rediscovery of the Ordinary. LADY, LADY by Gaby Saranouffi, Desiré Davids and Edna Jaime at the Wits Theatre, 2 and 3 March at 20:00, presents an experience into a female universe, built up by the personal journeys of three female artists from different countries within the Southern Africa region (South Africa, Mozambique and Madagascar). They share, search, explore and exchange their realities in order to give voice to various commonalities, challenges and images. Also on 2 and 3 March, at The Nunnery at 21:00, is Down to Earth by Kieron Jina and Marc Philipp Gabriel – this dance duet deals with constructed identities that are shaped by more and more complex constellations, than by merely geographical origins and social upbringing.

Dance Umbrella
Ketima | Choreographed by Gregory Maqoma | Performed by Vuyani Dance Theatre | Photograph: John Hogg

Detritus for One by Alan Parker, a physical theatre solo work with design by Gavin Krastin, is at the Wits Downstairs Theatre on 3 and 4 March at 18:00. The work explores the notion of ‘performing the archive’ and the potential ways in which performance can be used to archive past dance works for an audience in the present. Detritus for One draws together dance, spoken word, puppetry and visual image. Cape Town choreographer Kirvan Fortuin, who has also worked in the Netherlands, will present When they Leave, a triple bill of works at The Wits Theatre on 4 March at 19:00 and Sunday, March 5 at 14:30. When they Leave, which is technical, high-pitched and creative in unusual ways, will take the audience on an entertaining and interactive journey through the world of the performers.

Workers Chant | Photo by Evans Mathibe

Tutu by Tamara Osso at The Nunnery on Saturday, March 4 at 21:00 and Sunday March 5 at 15:30 explores the choreographer’s white identity in relation to other identities or constructs (be they apparent or ephemeral). Starting as a ballet dancer, the artist learnt that within structure there is freedom. Collaborators: Osso, Laura Cameron, Counterspace, Rabbit Productions and Visual Frontier. Closing the festival on Sunday, March 5 is the Young Artists Programme where six young choreographers will present new works: Thami Tshabalala (K-Mad Dance Company); Douglas Sekete (Koketso Dance Project) and Khaya Ndlovu from 10:00 at the Wits Downstairs Theatre and Phumlani Nyanga (Vuyani Dance Theatre); Seodigeng Keaoleboga; Ashleigh Joubert, Bonwa Mbontsi and Tegan Peacock (ReRouted Dance Theatre) from 11:15 at the Wits Amphitheatre.

Dance Umbrella
DeApartHate | Photo Oscar O’Ryan

Khaya Ndlovu’s ‘Silent Prints is a theatrical dance production expressed by two hands and feet, held together by an energised elastic body and accompanied by voice, they embark on a powerful exploration of African women’s identities. It addresses social and economic issues we face as women, however there isn’t a clearer understanding of the worth and what it took to be a woman of this new age. I truly believe this work is timeless and also talks to different ethnic cultures and genders by threading it with the intellectual strength and endurance of a woman. Basing it on unknown fighters of our country I compared the past to the present day examples using Lilian Ngoyi’s history and to the women we have produced now. So it’s a work where all ages can learn and take home to think about.’ And what does she think of the state and place of young dancers and choreographers in South Africa? ‘To be truly honest, it saddens me that the dance scene hasn’t been as open to the new and upcoming talents in the industry. Because being a young, upcoming artist I have learned that if more dancers started trusting their own creative intuition and start adventurously pursuing their individual choreographic and artist voice that would be really amazing and important for the future of South African contemporary dance.’

Dance Umbrella
Detritus for One | Photo by Niamh Walsh-Vorster

That this year’s Dance Umbrella is showing even more works by young dancers and choreographers hopefully heralds positive changes for contemporary dance in South Africa; that new voices will be heard, new perspectives seen and, hopefully, more opportunities made available. ‘In addition to the jam-packed programme, the festival will also host, between February 27 and March 4, a series of Master Classes at the Hillbrow Theatre Dance Studio which will be facilitated by selected choreographers and there’ll also be the popular Face to Face conversations with choreographers,’ says Thomson.

Tickets from R20 to R120 are available from Computicket 083 915 8000 or or call 011 492 2033 to reserve tickets.

For the Dance Umbrella 2017 programme, updates on the Master Classes and Face to Face interviews please visit

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