4 South African dancers you need to watch

Cape Town - Although I’ve been writing about dance since the early 90s, the past decade in Cape Town has allowed me to watch the transformation as talented teenagers become working professionals employed by some of the most esteemed dance companies in the world.

What is exciting now is to track the progress of dancers such as Mthuthuzeli November (Ballet Black) and Mlindi Kulashe (Northern Ballet Company) in the UK, Alice Godfrey (NDT1) in the Netherlands and Londiwe Khoza (Batsheva Dance Company) in Israel carving their niche in dance and choreography.

Mthuthuzeli November (Picture: Supplied)

November’s talents also extend to photography and videography. His role as The Wolf in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Red Riding Hood made Dance Europe’s critics’ list of Outstanding Male Performers for this year. Khoza completed a mentorship under Batsheva’s Ohad Naharin through the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, which led to her permanent appointment to the company’s Young Ensemble Dancers.

Godfrey won the 2016 Piket Art Prize for an artist younger than 30 whose work provides a “stimulating contribution to the local cultural environment”.

November, Khoza and Godfrey are graduates of Debbie Turner’s Cape Academy of Performing Arts and are former members of Cape Dance Company. Kulashe studied at the Cape Junior Ballet Company under Dianne Cheesman. Khoza and Godfrey started dancing aged five and three, respectively. November and Kulashe began later, aged 15 and nine, respectively. None of their journeys has been easy and credit goes to their own ambition, determination and talent – coupled with the investment their teachers, families and mentors have made.

Alice Godfrey (Photo: Joris-Jan Bos)

Cheesman spotted Kulashe in Keith Mackintosh’s Male Development Programme classes at Cape Town City Ballet and knew he had “something special”. She remembers him achieving distinctions for all his Royal Academy of Dance examinations and winning a bronze medal at the 2011 Genée International Ballet Competition.

“Exam results speak volumes, but I do recall an overseas teacher-choreographer saying that, when Mlindi danced, it was as if his body sang, meaning that he was so musical and his movements were effortless,” she says.

Despite that intrinsic skill, Kulashe says his favourite role so far was as Tybalt in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo and Juliet.

“Tybalt, in terms of movement, was sharp and dynamic, and I didn’t realise I had that in me. In that role, I discovered a lot about characterisation, how to be present and not so involved in my own head, and how to respond to other dancers,” he says.

Khoza says her journey with Batsheva has gone beyond just dance.

“The things I’ve learnt from Ohad, and from being in the environment and the company have taught me so much about myself as a dancer and also as a person.”

Londiwe Khosa (Picture: Supplied)

Godfrey first interacted with NDT when she attended a summer intensive in 2014, but had no expectation of working with them. Being accepted into a company that has had legendary status, virtually since inception, is an experience that makes her grateful “beyond words”. The Piket Art Prize jury described her as an “absolute eye-catcher with an intriguing, intense look that is at once playful and enigmatic”.

She recently debuted with NDT1 in a new work by Medhi Walerski titled SOON.

“The beginning of the season has been a huge pleasure,” says Godfrey.

“It’s a shift energetically. The dancers are so handsomely professional and exquisite – a new challenge for me to produce a standard of working excellence.”

Mlindi Kulashe (Photo: Justin Slee)

November enjoys being exposed to different choreographers through Ballet Black. The programme, currently on tour in the UK, is “really exciting” and has been attracting rave reviews. Talking about his role in Red Riding Hood, he says his character is mainly based on his tail – the tail gets the girl.

“I guess, in a way, it’s very me; it’s very swaggy and townshippy, tsotsi-like. I can relate because I grew up in that kind of environment.”

Do yourself a favour and google them. Watch these dancers on social media. See where they’re performing live and buy a seat if you’re in the area. Anyone in Cape Town for the Cape Dance Company’s annual season Interplay, which runs until Saturday at the Artscape Theatre, can watch the premiere of November’s commissioned work, Sun – The Rite of Passage.

Event information:

Dance fans can also look forward to two programmes featuring premieres by November and Kirsten Isenberg (SA), and works by Christopher L Huggins (US) and Andrea Schermoly (SA-US). Tickets cost between R130 and R200. Book at computicket.com