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Tuesday, August 16, 2011


(Eric Shabalala – detail from pic by Storm Janse van Rensburg in Jay Pather's work "State of Grace" in 2005)

In July, 2011, the dance world lost one of its most pro-active dancers and choreographers, Eric Mshengu Shabalala, a founder member of Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre as well as director of Shwibeka Dance Ensemble. Eric resigned from Siwela Sonke in 2008 to pursue his career but remained a strong influence on the work and work ethic of the company.

He has choreographed for several productions and corporate functions and his work has been seen in the United States of America as well as in Swaziland and Madagascar. He has been an intrinsic part in the choreography and management of such events as the opening of the World Economic Forum, the Closing Ceremonies and Amasiko Cultural Programme of the XIII International AIDS Conference and the Commonwealth Heads of State Meeting. He has gone onto produce several works for Siwela Sonke including Body of Evidence for the FNB Dance Umbrella in Johannesburg and productions such as youthdanceforce and Dancing on a Volcano.

He will be honoured at the Centre of Creative Arts' forthcoming Jomba! festival with an award that will be made annually through this platform.

“His recent untimely death has put into sharp focus the need to honour our dance 'heroes',” informs the 2011 Jomba! brochure. “Even as Eric developed as a dancer and choreographer in the ranks of the Phenduka training programme and Siwela Sonke, he taught and gave back to the community whatever he learned. He touched the lives of many through selfless devotion to the cause of dance and dance education. He put the training and education of young people above personal reward.

“Eric was also a tireless ambassador for dance,” the brochure article continues. “He brought dance and art to a range of different contexts as he collaborated with whoever would listen: foreign embassies, national festival organizers, universities and technikons, schools in under-serviced townships and community halls. As a result, he joins one of the unsung heroes in a society that is still slow to recognize and honour its artists and the dedication of its art teachers.”

The Eric Shabalala Dance Champion Award will continue to honour selfless service to the art form in all its respects. It will be presented to someone who emulates the values that Eric stood for: artistic excellence, selfless service, social upliftment and innovative practice.”

The award presentation will be made by Jay Pather (artistic director of Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre) on September 11 (the closing night of the festival).

"Eric was a selfless teacher and leader,” comments Jay Pather. “I can categorically say that he is one of the unsung heroes of contemporary dance in this region. Many dancers today have gone through his meticulous teaching and generous guidance. Even though he branched out of the arts environment in recent years, his impact will continue to have reverberations for many, many years to come. He will be sorely missed".