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Thursday, May 7, 2009


Lliane Loots speaks at Jomba Contemporary Dance Experience festival opening.

The recent Jomba Contemporary Dance Experience festival at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre in Durban gave a platform to develop and showcase new works. The following is the address given at the opening by Lliane Loots, Artistic Director of the Jomba Contemporary Dance Experience festival and The Flatfoot Dance Company:

In 1961 Frantz Fanon wrote: “In order to achieve real action, you must yourself be a living part of Africa and her thoughts; you must be an element of that popular energy which is entirely called forth for the freeing, the progress and the happiness of Africa. There is no place outside the fight for the artist or for the intellectual who is not himself concerned with, and completely one with the people in the great battle of Africa and of suffering humanity.”

Since this is primarily an audience of artists and intellectuals, this call to battle for our integrity and our identity as Africans is not something we can ignore – especially on a day like today; Earth Day and, of course - our elections. It is up to us to speak oppositional discourse, to challenge and to use our words, our poetry and our choreography, to be the conscience of a nation seemingly embracing the great capitalist belief that it is only the individual that counts, that “as long as my comfort, my wealth is assured then all will be well”. This is of course is not so, and Fanon reminds us that Africa should not be a continent that is happy with post-colonial corrupt ‘substitution’, it is revolution that we are after – intellectual and artistic!

By being here tonight, your feet have spoken a support for art and dance and for this I graciously thank you. In the run-up to our elections, I kept waiting, hoping, wishing that just one politician (any politician), just one political party (any political party) would speak about arts and culture – not one did.

Before rallies, musicians, poets and dancers were touted out as a kind of precursor to the real event – the political finger pointing and blaming that became our election milieu. We, as artists, have been nationally relegated to the ‘entertainment’ before the match, but never the real event, never serious enough to warrant in-depth debate. This is, of course, strange for a country like South Africa which has historically seen arts and culture as part of a liberation struggle. Where political meetings could not happen, Protest Theatre began; where artists could not speak, performances were made. And now, 15 years on, in one of the most significant elections of our contemporary history, where has been the serious discussion and strategizing around arts and culture, around a White Paper that is in serious need of revision?

In a way, I am reminded of the Hindu deity Shiva standing in his ring of fire – the Shiva Nitaraja. Shiva is the Lord of the Dance and in his dance he brings the world into being and then shakes it again into chaos and death. In Hindu mythology, dance is the vehicle that represents not only birth and creation, but preservation and then destruction. It is a very beautiful reminder of the cycles of existence and of the need to understand endings and death, maybe revolutions, as part of what allows creation to begin again. It is also a belief in the fundamental notion that dance is a medium of changing the world around us. I am hopeful that we, as artists and intellectuals are able to remind ourselves of this; of the severity of our ability to create, preserve, destroy and the create again – of this great battle, as Fanon put it, “for the freeing, the progress and the happiness of Africa”.

In fact, I cannot but fall in love with any great spiritual text that understands this idea of a battle, a spiritual battle for our identity and for our very sense of being. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna and Arjuna find that there is going to be a great battle for the Kingdom – this is clearly the kingdom of the soul. Arjuna, poised before this battle, asks his charioteer Krishna, if it would not be so much easier simply not to fight, to withdraw from the battle. A contemplation that many of us face in many of the avenues of our lives … so much easier to go home, complain and moan and perhaps watch Oprah! But Arjuna, helped by Krishna’s love and enlightenment, becomes aware that if you do not fight the battle of life because you are selfish and seek only your own comfort, all your resolutions are in vain because nature and the universe will compel you.

In the dance we are compelled and, in that compelling, we understand our connectedness to all things and that art is not separate from life, art IS life … it is the very fabric of our ability to fight, to love and to say “no” when it is required.

It is also the function of art – to not just be the entertainment before a political rally or a soccer match - to challenge the pictures we make of ourselves. This is very important for us as Africans … we are not only the image of the gaunt mother and starving child that the recent news footage on Sudan displays; that this is part of our history is undeniable, but we are also a continent of beautiful ancient holy places, inspired leadership like that of Patrice Lumumba, and a continent of bodies who dance – we dance when we protest, we dance when we bury the dead, and we dance to celebrate new life.

As the artistic director of Jomba!, I think this is what this festival has taught me. To love my continent and the art work that it produces, to truly be part of making a different picture of Africa (of South Africa?), And, it is in this dance and the creation and destruction and then creation again, that is the choreographic and theatrical process, that reminds me of the jihad – the holy war of my soul – that is both artist and intellectual … and most of all of being an activist who is willing to fight many battles to keep serious artistic space created like this by our Centre for Creative Arts and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, alive and functioning.

So on behalf of the Centre for Creative Arts, I welcome you to Jomba! 2009 … and to this opening night – the beginning of 11 days of Africa offering a different picture of itself … a picture that includes the famine and the wars, but which also offers the human body at its most divine and beautiful – dancing!"

Jomba this year featured Nigeria’s Ijodee Dance Company, Sifiso Kweyama and his company Okhela Dance Theatre from Johannesburg; Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre with two new works from choreographers Ntombi Gasa and Neliswa Rushualang; Theatre Taliipot - a theatre collective from Mauritius, Reunion Island and Madagascar, as well as Jomba! Dance On Screen featuring 13 films of dance curated by South Africa’s Jeannette Ginslov and Gerard Bester. There was also a festival fringe and a youth fringe which offered open platforms to new dance makers – young and old alike. For more info on the Jomba! Festival, visit