'He was magic to watch': Nicolette Moses pays tribute to Themba 'Dredz' Mbuli, dead at 33

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Prolific Dancer/Choreographer Themba 'Dredz' Mbuli died at the tender age of 33. (Photo: Dance JOMBA!/ Supplied)
Prolific Dancer/Choreographer Themba 'Dredz' Mbuli died at the tender age of 33. (Photo: Dance JOMBA!/ Supplied)

Award-winning dancer/choreographer Themba "Dredz" Mbuli passed away on 18 January after short illness, at the tender age of 33.

A recipient of the 2016 Standard Bank Young Artist Award, Mbuli used his to body to speak to his environment. Born in Zola, Soweto, he co-founded the Broken Borders Arts Project with Thulani Chauke and Fana Shabalala. He died in Cape Town, where he had co-founded UnMute Dance Company, a platform for artists living with disability.

WATCH| A lockdown improvisation by Themba Mbuli

I first met Themba "Dredz" Mbuli as a young dancer at Moving Into Dance (now MIDM), in Newtown, Johannesburg, where he was nurtured by dance makers like Sylvia Glasser. In conversation with Themba, it was revealed that he channelled his anger and the challenges of his youth through physical activity. He joined a Sowetan music and drama group as a teen, which ignited his passion for storytelling and his love for the interaction between performer and the audience.  

On leaving MIDM, Themba relocated to Cape Town to start work with REMIX in 2011. This marked the start of his love affair with Cape Town and afforded me the opportunity of getting to know this immensely talented, gentle, generous, smiling and all-round beautiful human being. Although based in Cape Town, he continued to commute between here and Gauteng to continue his work with Broken Arts Project which he co-founded in 2010 with Fana Shabalala and Thulani Chauke.

WATCH| SOLD by Themba Mbuli

Themba joined UNMUTE Dance Company in 2013 where he furthered his vision to inspire and include persons with disabilities through the performing arts.

In 2015, after yet another personal tragedy left him at a crossroad, Themba worked as a dancer in a collaboration with Swedish company Scenkonstsörmland and choreographer Grant van Ster to create Adagio for a Hacked Life. It was during his time in Sweden that, with Nadine McKenzie and UNMUTE company, the UNMUTE ArtsAbility Festival came to fruition. Often tired and stressed, he remained gracious and unstoppable in his efforts to tell stories, produce work and raise discussion for artists with disabilities. His work with UNMUTE Dance Company was testimony of his dedication to this cause. He was magic to watch. One somehow hoped, well I did anyway, that the calm, creative energy he exuded would spill over onto everyone who encountered him.

Being selected as the Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance in 2016 was another major highlight in Themba’s career as an award-winning dancer, teacher, choreographer and storyteller.

Storytelling was his driving force, and this was greatly evident in his choreography of the work I, as Artistic Director, commissioned for the 2017 Baxter Dance Festival. Author(r)ise paid homage to his grandmother and to the female-driven household that he grew up in, in Soweto. Hard to believe this young man was merely 30 years old at the time.  

WATCH| Trapped by Themba Mbuli with UnMasked Dance Company

I have so many proud moments and memories of Themba. He’d come a long way from his solo performance of Dark Cell in the 2012 Baxter Dance Festival. I met him in Berlin in 2019 where he was presenting Ashed and Trapped with UNMUTE and we chatted about plans for the year ahead. The Covid-19 pandemic put paid to many of the plans. UNMUTE ArtsAbility Festival went virtual. My diary was set for a face-to-face chat this week… Instead, I get to write this. I will miss Themba’s friendship and trust. His extraordinary talent is something many will never get to know nor experience.

I will miss hugs and endless laughter over Sunday lunch at #30, dreaming up projects, travel and me as your personal coach.

My heartfelt condolences to his family, loved ones, friends, colleagues and UNMUTE family.

Nicolette Moses was previously the Associate Producer and Planning Manager for the Baxter Theatre, a position she held since 2010. She is currently self employed as a life coach and creative industry consultant at NJMoses Consulting. She is a trained classical ballet and contemporary dancer who graduated from the UCT School of Dance
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