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Sunday, January 10, 2010


(Mlu Zondi. Pic by Suzy Bernstein)

Durban-born and bred 2010 Young Artist Award Winner for Dance straddles spaces seamlessly.

34-year old Durban born-and-bred Mlu Zondi is the 2010 Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for dance. This dynamic, out-of-the-box performer moves seamlessly between the stage, gallery and public spaces, and challenges the boundaries of the dance discipline with his cutting edge performance art, video and multimedia installations.

“As a young artist, winning this award puts you on the forefront of the South African art scene. It boosts your confidence immensely, allowing you to create without the self-censorship that comes with uncertainty. You also get a huge platform at the National Arts Festival, exposing your work to a wider audience. What more can you ask for!” said an excited Zondi.

“Mlu is thoughtful, considered and a complex creator and performer,” said Jay Pather, National Arts Festival committee member for dance, and a previous lecturer of Zondi’s. “He is a substantial thinker and creates work that is evocative as well as enigmatic and mysterious. He is not your average 'flash' dancer, and will more likely sweep one away with a quiet anarchy and a profound intelligence than try to please you with superficial entertainment,” he added.

Zondi describes his early experiences as an orphan growing up with an extended family as instrumental in his drive to perform. Growing up in the 1980's and early 1990's he was active as a Pansula dancer, and felt that performance allowed him to stand out and be special. His urge to study with no financial means made him work as a petrol attendant for three years after matriculating, saving for his further studies. This tenacity and endurance is still evident in his work, in a context where the level of experimentation and risk in performance culture is rare.

“My works are my confrontations with issues that haunt me: identity, relationships and childhood memoirs. Suppressed emotions emerge during creations and performances that become therapeutic,” he said. “As a performer with a theatre background, I had to find a style that will not only expose itself in one genre, but can actually be celebrated in a variety of artistic platforms.”

After completing a performance diploma at the Durban University of Technology (DUT), Zondi worked in commercial and corporate theatre for a while. His career as an international performer and artistic director was launched when he was invited to do a residency in Switzerland in 2002, with an opportunity to perform at the Lausanne International Dance Festival. His exceptional talent and determination, combined with his ability to maximize opportunities, opened the doors to various international grants and residencies, and has led to multiple award nominations.

“My work incorporates various genres, including video-art and installations. With this Young Artist Award, I want to develop the creations even further, and I want to instil a signature style of performance art video installations using dance as a base for performance and body politics,” said Zondi.

Zondi’s dance / installation crossover experimentation paid off in 2006, when he won the MTN New Contemporaries Award for his work Silhouette. He was nominated for both the MEC Gauteng Best Original Choreography and the Durban Theatre Awards Best Choreographer awards as well. His first dance residency was with Boyzie Cekwana's Floating Outfit Projects in Durban in 2001. In 2002 he attended a residency with Theatre Sevelin 36 in Lausanne, Switzerland and in 2003 he completed a residency with the FNB Dance Umbrella in Johannesburg. Since then, he has taken part in various international residencies. In 2007, he was dancing on the stages of South Korea in the Seoul Performing Arts Company’s Orpheus. In 2008, he was in Spain with the Rodriguez-Amat Foundation of Contemporary Arts and in Belgium with the KVS Theatre in Brussels, as well as with the Bains:Connective Art Laboratory. In October 2009, he attended the prestigious Kuns:Raum Foundation in Sylt Quelle, Germany.

Even with all of the international recognition, Zondi’s integrity remains paramount. He speaks about his creations as an outlet for his own emotional journey. “The object is to see how far the work can grow and how it will look once it is complete,” he said. “That challenge keeps me working all the time, as there will always be new material to be added to the work and new structures to be included. That means I will never be out of work and will always have a space to crush my demons.”

In 2008 Zondi created two new works, Experimenta and Vertigo. The former was performed at the Bains:Connective, Brussels, at the end of his residency and also formed part of a group exhibition, Scratching the Surface Vol. 1 at the AVA Gallery in August 2008, and Modern Fabrics at the Bag Factory Studios in September 2008. Vertigo was created and performed during a performance art workshop held at the Bag Factory Studios in Johannesburg, July 2008. It was also performed during a women's festival at the Market Theatre Precinct in August 2008.

Zondi’s award winning show Silhouette was performed at KVS, Brussels as part of Faustin Linyekula, Carte Blanche in April 2008, and was most recently seen in Cape Town at the Cape Africa Platform, with Thando Mama responsible for the live video images. This follows successful and acclaimed performances of the work at the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, FNB Dance Umbrella in Johannesburg and Jomba! Contemporary Dance Festival in Durban. An earlier version of Silhouette premièred at the National Dance Centre in Paris, France in 2005 as a work-in-progress during a festival of contemporary African dance, curated by Faustin Linyekula. Some of his latest works include his video work Mirage, that was part of the Postcards on the Edge documentary screened at the Guth Gafa Documentary Festival in Ireland in 2009. Despotica, a performance art video installation, was exhibited at the KZNSA Gallery in April 2009.

Zondi is currently working in a new series Cinema, which utilizes multi-screened performance art video installations. Cinema will première in 2010 in South Africa and tour internationally thereafter. Apart from being an exceptional performer, Zondi has also tried his hand successfully at arts administration. He was the regional coordinator for the Performing Arts Network of South Africa in KwaZulu-Natal (PANSA KZN) during 2005/06. He currently works under the banner of Sololique Projects (established in 2000 whilst he was still a student), a performance company with himself as Artistic Director and principal member, incorporating other collaborators. Zondi’s early artistic influences include Jay Pather, a lecturer at DUT in 2000, and Boyzie Cekwana, the latter a role model as a teenager.

“It is significant that work that transcends disciplines, in that it engages with visual arts and new media, is given prominence,” said Pather. “It takes our art onto exciting frontiers, and pushes the envelope on how we look and express ourselves.”

“2010 is going to be an exciting year indeed,” said Zondi.

The Young Artist Awards were started in 1981 by the National Arts Festival to acknowledge emerging, relatively young South African artists who have displayed an outstanding talent in their artistic endeavours. These prestigious awards are presented annually to deserving artists in different disciplines, affording them national exposure and acclaim. Standard Bank took over the sponsorship of the awards in 1984 and presented Young Artist Awards in all the major arts disciplines over their 26-year sponsorship, as well as posthumous and special recognition awards. The winners feature on the main programme of the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown and receive financial support for their Festival participation, as well as a cash prize.