Need to know

2011-09-03 00:00

QUESTIONS of identity and the search for it by today’s “Freedom Generation” — young people born since the end of apartheid — is at the heart of Mandisa Roeleene Haarhoff’s new work, Ithole, which is being presented on this year’s JOMBA! Fringe.

Twenty-four-year-old Haarhoff was born in Port Elizabeth, grew up in Somerset East and then headed back to PE to complete her high school years. Now a Masters student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg, 2011 marks the second year in succession that she has presented new work at the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Festival. Last year she choreographed­ My Feet Trod Here for the fringe, and Circumcised Spirit for JOMBA! Red Eye 2010.

Asked what her new work, Ithole­ is about she explains that as a child, growing up on a farm, she would often watch the cows calving.

“After birth the calves would lie dormant for a little while and then they would slowly stretch their legs and try to get up. I’m using that image as an analogy for South Africa­’s freedom generation. We’re also trying to find our feet,” Haarhoff explains. “We need to find out who we are? We need to find out what our place in South African society is, aside from that which we are being told it is.”

Too many older South Africans, she adds, are trying to tell this younger generation how it should feel and act.

In Ithole, Haarhoff uses six dancers — Mpilo Nzimande, Kwanele Thusi, Natacha Steynberg, Kelsey Du Toit, Thobeka Bengu and JC Zondi — to tell her story.

“What I’m trying to show through this piece is that we are all born from the same place,” she says. “I believe we need to create our own stories about identity, what ethnicity means and what being a South African means to us.”

The dancers will be accompanied by three musicians — Mandisa Dladla, Mercio Langa and Sihle Mahonga — who will be interpreting text written in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa.

Haarhoff’s mixed-race heritage also comes across in her beautiful one-woman show, Crush Hopper, which is being staged at this year’s The Witness Hilton Arts Festival (September 16-18) at Hilton College.

Crush Hopper is a semi-autobiographical tale about a young coloured­ girl who, in her desire to be white, suppresses her Xhosa heritage, which she perceives to be backwards and uncouth. Through a series of crushes, she begins to discover and eventually accept her heritage.

Haarhoff, who says she had never planned to be an actress, has been stunned by the success of the play, which won the audience award at the Musho Festival of One and Two-Hander Theatre in Durban in January and a coveted Ovation Award at the National­ Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

“After Musho I wrote down on a paper — ‘what if I go to Grahamstown, what if I win an ovation award, what if I’m named young artist of the year, what if I go to Hilton?’. It was a dream, but as the year has gone on, I have been ticking off things on the list. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up soon,” she adds.

Aside from being delighted by the response she has received, the dancer-choreographer believes Crush Hopper has set her free on a more personal level. “I now feel that it’s okay to have crushes, that it’s okay to be more fluent in Afrikaans than in Xhosa, that it’s okay to be loud and not poised,” Haarhoff says.

As for what lies ahead, Haarhoff says she’ll be heading to the U.S. to take up a Fulbright Scholarship in September 2012. She’ll be doing film studies and is even toying with the idea of turning Crush Hopper into a film.

• Mandisa Haarhoff’s Ithole can be seen at the JOMBA! Fringe at 7.30 pm on September 5. It is one of several original works on the bill. The others have been choreographed by Mlondolozi Zondi, Sarahleigh Castelyn, Stella Dlangalala, Zenzelisphesihle “Sparky” Xulu, Jabulani “Tamraat” Matiwane and Vusi Makanya. The JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience is at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until September 11. Log on to for details of the line-up.

•  Crush Hopper will be performed in the Spar Drama Centre at Hilton College during The Witness Hilton Arts Festival at 4.30 pm on Saturday, September 17 and at 2.15 pm on Sunday, September 17. Tickets are R60.

Booking for T he Witness Hilton Arts Festival is open.

Phone 033 383 0126. To see the full programme log on to

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