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Thursday, September 1, 2011


(Pic by Storm Janse van Rensburg: Eric Shabalala in Jay Pather's work "State of Grace", 2005)

Eric Mshengu Shabalala was a founder member of Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre as well as director of Shwibeka Dance. His recent untimely death has put into sharp focus the need to honour South Africa’s dance 'heroes'.

Even as Eric developed as a dancer and as a 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.

A few years ago, he began his own training and performance company, Shwibeka Dance Ensemble. He choreographed for several productions and corporate functions and his work has been seen in the United States as well as Swaziland and in Madagascar. He was also 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.

Eric Shabalala produced 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 resigned from Siwela Sonke in 2008 to pursue his career but remained a strong influence on the work and work ethic of the company.

Eric was also a tireless ambassador for dance. 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.

In his name this award, presented at the 13th JOMBA! festival, currently running at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, will continue to honour selfless service to the art form in all its respects. The Eric Shabalala Dance Champion Award will be made annually - through the platform and support of the CCA's JOMBA! Festival - to someone who emulates the values that Eric stood for: artistic excellence, selfless service, social upliftment and innovative practice.

"Eric was a selfless teacher and leader,” says Jay Pather, Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre’s artistic director. “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".”

The award presentation will be made by Jay Pather on September 11 which is the closing night of the festival. For more information on JOMBA!, click on the Centre for Creative Arts button advert at the top of this page or visit