A joyous celebration of physical theatre, September’s Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience showcases local Durban performers of all ages, both professionals and amateurs, alongside international artists. Combining performances and workshops, the festival takes place across the city, aiming to engage with the local community through its variety of venues, including Durban Art Gallery - 20 minutes from The Oyster Box - as well as the township. Now in its 20th year, Jomba!’s Artistic Director Lliane Loots talks to us about this year’s highlights.<
How did the idea for the Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience first come about?
“Jomba! is the creation of the University of Kwazulu-Natal. Its headquarters are the university’s Centre for Creative Arts, which runs four festivals every year – Jomba! being one of them. Our situation in an academic and learning environment makes the event quite unique in South Africa. We’re now in our 20th year and Jomba! is one of the biggest festivals on the African continent.”
Do you have anything special planned to mark its 20th anniversary this year?
“Absolutely! We’ve given this year’s festival the theme of ‘legacy’, so we’ve specifically focused on curating and inviting work that somehow speaks to this notion of legacy, history and memory. The festival opens with a Johannesburg-based dance company called Moving Into Dance Mophatong, who are celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2018 and who also performed at the very first Jomba! Festival, so we invited them back to complete the circle. We’re also putting a big focus on local Durban-based artists, celebrating the growth of 20 years of dance history in our own city.”
What are set to be some of the highlights from the main programme?
“Certainly Moving Into Dance Mophatong and also Indian contemporary dancer Anita Ratnam, who will be performing her solo work for the first time at the festival. Our province holds the largest Indian diaspora population outside of India so to have her here, as someone who has broken boundaries and changed form in the field, is a huge highlight. Additionally, we go to huge effort to connect with the African continent and this year we have two artists from Madagascar performing, which I’m really looking forward to.”
Can you tell us a bit more about the Fringe and Youth Fringe events?
“An important part of the festival is to provide space for both young and old choreographers, professional or amateur. Originally, we just had one Fringe but we’ve spilt it into two platforms. The Youth Fringe relates to any work made for dance groups who are under 16 – these could well be township groups performing traditional dance. It’s a wonderful day, with dance groups coming from all over the province and as far as Namibia to perform. The Fringe is a more curated platform where artists who are selected can make use of the full technical team available. It’s a chance for young choreographers to test out their work on a professional stage with a packed audience watching.”
Why is it important to you to not only feature talented local dancers but also performers from overseas?
“Jomba! strives to find a balance between bringing the world’s dance to Durban but also exposing local works and local dancers to these international guests. We have a rule that every international guest who performs also has to be willing to teach workshops. So, Anita Ratnam will teach a three-hour workshop to local dancers. We want to create a space for skill sharing that allows our community to meet with the bigger global community of dancers.”
Alongside dance performances, what other events can visitors get involved with?
"The workshops are a big thing for us, to make sure it’s not just about watching but that people really engage through doing and being. This year we have a guest lighting designer, who has travelled from Chicago to be our lighting designer and stage manager for the festival. She’s running lighting workshops for dancers who probably haven’t ever thought about what it means to light their choreography.”
Witness the Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience and explore Durban’s creative scene from The Oyster Box.
Image credits: Lead image and Moving Into Dance image © Val Adamson. All other images courtesy of Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience.