Local dancers make a French Konexion

2010-02-26 13:53

STREET-dancing styles meet in a blur of acrobatic movement as

French and South African dancers workshop a piece for the Dance ­Umbrella. As

with flying trapeze artists in the circus, one miss and someone gets hurt.

This kind of dancing taxes each of the dancers, fit as they are, to

push their physical limits and some of the collaborative work calls for the

rapid development of trust as they fling their bodies around and catch each


On a broader level, working together bridges cultural gaps and

opens up a dialogue between young talents on a personal level and between

countries on a political scale.

The Emmarentia Scout Hall in Melville has been home to this group

of young pan-continental dancers – half French and half South African – since

the beginning of February.

Jarrel Zenzile Mathebula, one of the local dancers, is the artistic

­director and founder of the Indigenous Dance Academy in Tembisa, though he’s

not yet 25 years old. He began the academy seven years ago and for the last six

he has been helping children in his community – 60 so far – get bursaries to


“I teach kids to dance at my house. I’ve been offered halls and

stuff, but I think I’d lose something.

 Mothers come with their kids on Saturdays

and the classes are part daycare, part learning dance as well as life skills

too,” he says.

Mathebula explains how he came to work with the French crew, Wanted

Posse. He says he received a call from the arts and culture department last

year. The French were interested in learning from a dancer who had learned his

craft on the streets of the township.

“I auditioned at this really chilled-out braai and they told me

they wanted to learn pantsula. The idea was for our different styles of street

dancing to come together and make a connection.” Hence the name of the piece –


“It might be the first time that these two styles have come

together, South African and French street- dance language,” says


This is Mathebula’s first time in the Dance Umbrella and he’s very

excited about working with the French dance crew and with the other South

Africans, two of whom learned their craft at his academy.

The piece is collaborative and creating it is a democratic process.

Unsure how one builds a dance piece organically simply by throwing a bunch of

dancers into a rehearsal room, I ask Mathebula where his inspiration comes


“You get the vibe and happiness from home and stuff comes out. It’s

in the system. Some days nothing comes,” he says, laughing.

“Dance is something that’s in my system. I grew up with it. Just

like you get those soccer players who are naturals, I’m an original. I dance

­because it’s all about love. The sun comes up and I start dancing in my room,

then I think I’d better write that down and do it again.”

Mathebula says dance tells a ­story, it invites the audience into

his world.

Jacques Qhwame, another dancer from the academy chosen for this

collaborative piece, says that dance is the purest form of expression for him.

“It’s me expressing myself to the crowd. I started dancing to get myself out of

bad things and into ­doing good things.”

The best B-Boy (that’s breakdancer for the older generation) in the

country after winning a competition last year, Dylin “Gift” Erasmus is

justifiably proud of his achievements on the dancefloor and is another of the

local dancers joining Wanted Posse on the rehearsal floor. “When I saw dancers,

B-Boys, I went deep into it and started to practice.”

He learned more about breakdancing with a group alarmingly named

Execution Style in Port Elizabeth, but is now a member of the more harmonious

sounding Ubuntu Crew in Cape Town.

He explains why he and his fellow dancers refer to themselves as a

crew rather than a troupe. “A crew because we understand each other, are there

for each other – like brothers.” Also, he has to have complete trust that the

other guy will catch him as he throws his body at him. And vice versa.

The only woman chosen,Thato Pule, is the youngest dancer and also a

member of the Indigenous Dance Academy. She keeps up with the boys easily,

barely breaking into a sweat. Tiny and super-fit, she says she has put her

studies on hold this year to follow her passion. “Dancing was a hobby, but I

focus on it now because it’s my talent.”

She and her fellow dancers will be heading for France to perform

from March 8 for two weeks.

The group will go back to France in November to showcase new work.

Says Mathebule: “We’ll be doing our own thing then with dancers

from my academy – six to 10 dancers?– putting together a 25-minute show.”

One routine lasts about two to three minutes, so it constitutes a

fair amount of choreography.

Ousmane Sy “Baba”, the only member of Wanted Posse who speaks

fluent English, says that his crew is thrilled to be swapping street dancing

moves with their South African counterparts. “The final product will be ready

for the premiere on Saturday, but as we perform it it changes every time.”

As the two crews get into the rhythm of rehearsal it becomes clear

how in a few short weeks they have been able to put together such a powerful

piece of street-dancing theatre.

They respectfully watch each other’s performances, videotaping each

one for later discussion.

There’s a burst of appreciative applause from the

other dancers when one of them pulls off a particularly tricky or skilful move.

This is the secret to successful collaboration, mutual respect for each other’s

talents and a desire to learn.

The Dance Umbrella, now in its 22nd year, is about the development

of relationships on and off the dancefloor and is about the expression of

talent, both new and seasoned. I expect that in years to come Mathebula, Pule,

Qhwame and ­Erasmus will continue to pass their skills to the next generation

and continue to hone their considerable talent to add to the diverse creative

fabric of South Africa.

?Konexion is on at the Market ­Theatre on March 5 and 6 at 8.30pm

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