Maverick Life


The powerful humanity of inclusivity defines the recent body moves festival

The powerful humanity of inclusivity defines the recent body moves festival
Thapelo Ben Kotlolo (SA) and Eva Eikhout (NL) in 'Pro-Forma-2'. Image: Herman Verwey

The transformation of South Africa’s contemporary dance scene over the past two decades into one that celebrates the innate beauties of all bodies was on spectacular show at the Body Moves International Inclusive Dance Festival, held recently at the Sibikwa Arts Centre in Benoni.

In an increasingly inward-looking world, one saturated by ego and focus on the self, the recent Body Moves International Inclusive Dance Festival served as a reminder that it is only through community and inclusivity that we can really know ourselves and, indeed, know each other.

The inaugural festival, held at the Sibikwa Arts Centre in Benoni over two days in October, brought together able-bodied and differently abled dancers and choreographers from South Africa, Ireland, Italy, Uganda, the Netherlands and Flanders. In a celebration of cultural exchange, the workshops, forums as well as collaborations and works gave weight to the meaning of the word “equality”.

In the early 2000s, through a British Council-led initiative called Britain and South Africa Dancing, integrated dance specialist Adam Benjamin conducted Tshwaragano: In Touch Integrated Dance Project, a national skills training workshop. 

From this engagement sprang a deep well of noteworthy individuals and companies who have, over the past 20 years, forged space for a further transformation of South Africa’s contemporary dance scene — one that highlights the unexpected and celebrates the innate beauties of all bodies.

  • Dr Gerard Samuel co-founded the Left Feet First Dance Group in 2000, which subsequently developed connections with Dr Lliane Loot’s Flatfoot Dance Company.
  • Agulhas Theatre Works, founded by Gladys Agulhas in 1999, altered its focus to mixed ability and was active nationally and internationally, launching the career of Mandla Mngomezulu.
  • The Remix Dance Project Trust, established in 2001 by Nicola Visser and Malcolm Black, introduced Andile Vellem and Nadine Mckenzie to the world.
  • In 2014, Vellem, with Mpotseng Shuping and Themba Mbuli, co-founded the Unmute Dance Company in Cape Town.

These important connections were threaded throughout Body Moves, the clear lines of legacy apparent, particularly in the collaboration between MonkeyMind Company and Unmute in What we can do together and Flatfoot with the Flatfoot Downie Dance Company in Same difference.

(Left to right) Karl Hebberman, Michaela Munro, Kevin Govender, Charles Phillips and Zinhle Nzama in 'Same Difference'.

(Left to right) Karl Hebberman, Michaela Munro, Kevin Govender, Charles Phillips and Zinhle Nzama in ‘Same Difference’. Image: Herman Verwey

Flatfoot Dance Company & Flatfoot Downies Company in 'Same Difference' by Lliane Loots.

Flatfoot Dance Company & Flatfoot Downies Company in ‘Same Difference’ by Lliane Loots. Image: Herman Verwey

Argentinian choreographer Lisi Estaras is no stranger to South Africa, having worked in Joburg with the Hillbrow Theatre’s extraordinary “Hillbrowification” project a few years ago. This time, her dancers Elie Tass and Hannah Bekemans created a new work with Unmute’s Nadine Mckenzie, Tasmin Andrews, Yaseen Manuel and Darion Adams. 

Charting an “emotional path, an ongoing exercise in meeting. This [was] what we can do together”, the dancers came together in a playful meeting, exploring eye contact, holding and catching, inhaling and exhaling.

The audience was drawn into an intimate circle of sharing, with wonderful moments of exaggerated facial expressions combined with articulate finger work and sounds and noises stretched into slow-motion sequences. 

Unmute, known for its daring physicality and head-on attitude to issues facing people with disabilities, was challenged here to slow things down, to pull the focus to the centre in a gentler, nuanced way. The partnership yielded many delightful moments of acceptance of each other’s differences.

Loots’s moving work, Same difference, plotted “the meetings and partings of eight dancers who journey into ways of seeing one another”.

This quiet, gentle offering was balm for the soul. In the fluid, smooth choreography, there was kindness and humour as the dancers acknowledged each other in intimate duos, where touching and breath collided. In a post-Covid world where many are afraid to reach out and touch, this work was a reminder of the necessity for humans to embrace and be embraced. 

Pro Forma-2, a duet for Eva Eikhout from Holland and Thapelo Kotlolo from South Africa (Sibikwa), was created during the week of the festival with Dutch choreographer Adriaan Luteijn. Incredible music combined with supercharged staccato physicality, this pair literally blew the audience away.

Again, the powerful intimacy and confrontation of each other’s differences continued to open the way we receive and perceive body shapes and types on stage — there are no stereotypes. It’s the unique nature of integrated dance: the sharing of that which we can offer the other.

Joseph Tebandeke in 'Time Machine'.

Joseph Tebandeke in ‘Time Machine’. Image: Herman Verwey

Tasmin Andrews and Nadine McKenzie in 'What We Can Do Together'.

Tasmin Andrews and Nadine McKenzie in ‘What We Can Do Together’. Image: Herman Verwey

The work ended with Eikhout resting in front of Kotlolo, as he offers her his arms and hands, which, at first, she pushes away then gradually accepts. 

Ugandan dancer Tebandeke Joseph presented a sobering perspective on navigating a world that denies disabled people equitable access, with his solo Time Machine.

Using his crutches like weapons, Joseph was surrounded by an installation of assistive devices, all out of reach to him. He moved among them, silently shouting, trying to be heard.

Ireland’s Sighile Hennessy invited the audience into her solo exploration of memory and imagination in Out There. There was a poignant sense of loneliness and heartache as she set up the picnic to which nobody came. It was an introspective work, channelling an internal pondering on loss.

In Battiti/Beating by Italy’s Paola Palmi, a playful trio used fantastical velvet costumes and boxes stacked up in the corners of the performance space.

Rhythmical and lighthearted, Lucia Lazzari, Alice Gorini and Riccardo Contini captured attention with their quirky responses to the music and use of beats and breath to create patterns and choreographic phrases. 

Packed with creativity, non-conformity, mutual respect and dignity, Body Moves was a welcome addition to a festival space that has been devastated by Covid-19 and funding challenges in the past few years. Kudos to the Sibikwa team and production manager Mark Hawkins for making it a reality. ML/DM

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations



Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted