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19 October 2022

Eva Eikhout and Thapelo Kotlolo in "Pro Forma-2". Photo by Herman Verwey

By Tammy Ballantyne

In a world saturated by ego, focused on self and increasingly inward-looking, the Body Moves International Inclusive Dance Festival held at Sibikwa Arts Centre in Benoni over the weekend, reminded those of us in the audience that it is only through community and inclusivity that we can really know ourselves and indeed, know each other.

The inaugural festival brought together able-bodied and differently abled dancers and choreographers from SA, Ireland, Italy, Uganda, the Netherlands and Flanders, in a celebration of cultural exchange, workshops, forums, intense collaborations and works that gave weight to the meaning of the word “equality”.

I remember my first exposure to integrated dance in the early 2000s through the British Council-led initiative called Britain and South Africa Dancing. The UK’s integrated dance specialist, Adam Benjamin, conducted the national skills training workshop Tshwaragano-in-Touch Integrated Dance Project.

From this initial engagement sprang a deep well of noteworthy individuals and companies, who over the last 20 years, have forged space for a further transformation of SA’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 Theatre 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 and in 2014, Vellem with Mpotseng Shuping and Themba Mbuli co-founded the Unmute Dance Company in Cape Town.

Tasmin Andrews, Nadine Mckenzie in “What we can do together”. Photo by Herman Verwey

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.

Choreographer Lisi Estaras is no stranger to SA, 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 is what we can do together”, the dancers come together in a playful meeting, exploring eye contact, holding and catching, inhaling and exhaling. We were 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 and MonkeyMind in “What we can do together”. Photo by Herman Verwey

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’ moving work, Same difference, “plots the meetings and partings of eight dancers who journey into ways of seeing one another.” This quiet, gentle offering was balm for our souls. In the fluid, smooth choreography, there was kindness and humour in the partnering, 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 reminded us of the necessity for humans to embrace and be embraced.

Flatfoot and Flatfoot Downies in “Same Difference”. Photo by Herman Verwey

Pro Forma-2, a duet for Eva Eikhout from Holland and Thapelo Kotlolo from SA (Sibikwa), was created during the week of the festival with Dutch choreographer Adriaan Luteijn. Incredible music combined with super-charged staccato physicality, this pair literally blew the appreciative 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. The work ends with Eikhout resting in front of Kotlolo, as he offers her his arms and hands, which at first she pushes away then gradually accepts.

Joseph Tebandeke (Uganda) presented a sobering perspective on navigating a world that denies disabled people equitable access, with his solo Time Machine. Using his crutches like weapons, he is surrounded by an installation of assistive devices, all out of reach to him, and he moves amongst 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. Here there is a poignant sense of loneliness and heartache, as she sets up the picnic to which nobody comes. It is an introspective work, channelling an internal pondering on loss.

Battiti/Beating by Italy’s Paola Palmi, is a playful trio using fantastical velvet costumes and boxes stacked up in the corners of the performance space. Rhythmical and light-hearted, Lucia Lazzari, Alice Gorini and Riccardo Contini, captured our hearts 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 is a welcome addition to a festival space which has been decimated by Covid-19 and extreme funding challenges over the past few years. Kudos to the Sibikwa team and production manager Mark Hawkins for making it a reality.


Please visit the official Government information portal for Coronavirus by clicking HERE

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