It is with great sorrow that the Creative Feel team reports on the passing of dancer, choreographer, and teacher Themba ‘Dredz’ Mbuli. The artist, 33, died in Cape Town on 18 January.
Having written on Mbuli’s extraordinary work and commitment to South African dance and performing arts over the years, we were witness to his unique talent as well as his enormous capacity for inspiring others in the performing arts. We first crossed paths with Mbuli when he was announced as the Standard Bank Young Artist Award (SBYAA) winner for Dance in 2016.
We wrote then how his love affair with the performing arts started in a youth club in Soweto – Zola Musical Drama – 15-odd years ago. And it was dance that drew him to Moving into Dance Mophatong (MIDM) a few years later, where he received formal training. Immediately after graduating in 2007, Mbuli joined Inzalo Dance and Theatre Company as a trainee performer under Moeketsi Koena. A year later, he was accepted back at MIDM as a dancer, where he also served as a teacher and choreographer. This was followed by a two-year contract with the Reunion Island-based company Theatre Talipot where he worked as a principal dancer.
In later years, Mbuli would go on to co-found the Johannesburg-based arts company Broken Borders Arts Project with Fana Tshabalala and Thulani Chauke, as well as the Cape Town-based Unmute Dance Company, and collaborate prolifically with fellow artists both locally and abroad.
Mbuli was well-known for his charged, yet delicate portrayals of complex themes and contemporary politics, as seen in his works Trapped, Sold, and Dark Cell, the latter having been performed to audiences in Sweden, Uganda, the UK, Argentina, the Netherlands and more.
Upon winning the SBYAA for Dance in 2016, Mbuli commented: ‘Out of all the young South African artists who are already doing innovative and ground-breaking works, I’m really humbled to be part of the few that are recognised with such a significant award.’
Speaking on his passing, the National Arts Festival recently wrote: ‘He often spoke about the tragedies and hardships he had experienced in his life and on winning his award he said that he wanted to bring more artists to the dance world, ‘leaving no one behind’. His dedication to this dream was realised with the Unmute Dance Company that worked tirelessly to produce work and raise discussion about and for artists with disabilities.’
Our deepest condolences go to Mbuli’s friends and family, and we wish them strength during this difficult time.
Go well, Themba, you are remembered by countless friends and admirers who will miss you dearly. Your work will live on, always.