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Two elegant pieces by the Flatfoot Dance Company opened Dance Umbrella, setting the tone for 10 days of remarkable, stirring and searching works by a range of choreographers.
THE annual Dance Umbrella kicked off with a double bill feature of Circles and Bloodlines, giving the audience a snippet of what the 10-day event entails.

 

Dance Umbrella promises plenty of entertainment for audiencesDance Umbrella promises plenty of entertainment for audiencesMarking its 23rd birthday, Dance Umbrella showcases the best of the country’s dance talent. The festival comprises new commissioned work by South African companies and choreographers, invited international companies, young artists and a fringe programme, a series of workshops and master classes, discussions and debates regarding dance, and face-to-face talks.
 

On Thursday, 24 February, the Dance Factory in Newtown was packed to capacity on opening night, where the Flatfoot Dance Company presented both productions.

Circle, by Sifiso Kweyama, was unraveled by a group of dancers including Jabu Siphika, Thobeka Quvane, Vusi Makanya, S’fiso Magesh Ngcobo, Sifiso Khumalo and Nobuhle Khawula. Gracefully gliding through the air, this narrative piece “began as an exploration of traditional values around story-telling and its place in both ancient and contemporary African society. It involved each of the dancers using this platform to also negotiate their ‘stories’ and so the work has a very private and intimate sensibility”, noted Kweyama.

The second dance on the bill was Bloodlines. Choreographer Lliane Loots summed it up: “In a way, I think everything is history – even that art of choreography which is so much about histories of our bodies. Not just the obvious histories of gender and race legislation that told us where our body could walk and sleep, but also the histories of how our bodies move.”

On a long cycle one Sunday morning heading in the direction of south Durban, she found a small bronze plaque around the Jacobs area commemorating the “Women and Children of the Great Boer War of 1899 to 1902 who had lived and died in the British Concentration Camp of 1902”.

The plaque was brought into her piece. She explained: “It was a small insignificant little plaque in the middle of roads and parks and houses and people. I thought that it was some scrap from somewhere and out of place … but it obviously stayed with me and so I began to search.”

Boer War
After researching in libraries and books and on the internet, she found she had stumbled on to something that was not spoken about or remembered.

 

CircleCircle, a narrative piece by Sifiso Kweyama“It is silent and absent in the political landscape of history, memory and remembrance – and the history and remembrance of white Afrikaner identity. South Durban housed the three biggest concentration camps of Boer women and children in the country during the second Boer War.
 

“And how does this figure into Bloodlines? All of these – and our – multiple histories are written on the skin, in blood. We move them as we represent our race or gender, as we contemplate the movement of Africans into South Africa and our response to the Makwerekwere, to Jacob Zuma saying that, among white South Africans, only the white Afrikaner are truly African … these fragments of history are danced with the bodies of six South African dancers, bodies that are dangerous,” concluded Loots.

Dance Umbrella runs until 6 March at various venues in Joburg, including the Wits Theatre and Wits Downstairs Theatre, and the UJ Arts Centre. The full programme is available online.

The Dance Umbrella was established in 1989. It features new works from South African choreographers, international artists and young up-and-coming artists, and has become a platform for new South African work. Now in its 23rd year, the Dance Umbrella remains under the artistic direction of Georgina Thomson and remains the biggest contemporary dance platform in the country.

The Dance Forum Board noted in the opening night programme: “The Dance Umbrella Festival is unquestionably one of South Africa’s most significant festivals, offering an opportunity to explore, develop and be an important platform to all emergent dance forms.

“We also hope to open a new chapter in South African dance history and continue celebrating it as part of our important cultural heritage,” it concluded

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