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Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Durban has been treated to 12 days of fantastic dance action from local and international companies during the 13th JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience, principally supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund. The festival drew to conclusion on Sunday night with the awarding of the Eric Shabalala Dance Champion Award to Wentworth-based dance practitioner Jarryd Watson.

Eric Mshengu Shabalala passed away in July, 2011, and his untimely death has caused shock and sadness in the local and national artistic community. Eric was a founder member of Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre and has choreographed for several productions and corporate functions. His work has been seen in the United States of America as well as Swaziland and in Madagascar. He resigned from Siwela Sonke in 2008 to pursue his career running a dance training and performance company called Shwibeka Dance Ensemble, but continued to remain a strong influence on the work and work ethic of Siwela Sonke.

One of Eric’s greatest legacies has been his commitment and dedication to the development of dancers and dance training in KwaZulu-Natal. Many of the province’s current top contemporary and African dancers claim him as one of their foundational dance teachers and educators.

In memory of Eric’s incredible legacy, the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal) and the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience, in consultation with Jay Pather (artistic director of Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre), have created what they hope will be an annual award, given to a “dance champion”. In the spirit of Eric’s own legacy, this dance champion is selected for his or her contribution to the growth of dance and dance training and education – often in conditions of little or no funding, where the dance champion has continued to dedicate him or herself to the growth and training of young dancers. A growth that extends beyond the studio, rehearsal or performance.

The first Eric Shabalala Dance Champion Award, which includes a grant by the Centre for Creative Arts and from compassionate individuals, was presented to Jarryd Watson, a young professional dancer working mostly in the idiom of street dance. He is also an aspiring film-maker, an entrepreneur and the director of the Wentworth Arts and Culture Organisation. Working tirelessly to create artistic opportunities and access for the youth of Wentworth, Jarryd started Dance Movement in 2007, an initiative for the development of dance and performance skills. The group is often seen in local productions, performances and events such as the JOMBA! Festival Youth Fringe, Imbumba Festival, The National Creative Youth Arts Festivals, and Giyani Lusha.

Dance Movement recently represented South Africa in the United Dance Organisation (UDO) World Street Dance Championships at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool, England, where his group won 12 trophies in a competition that included 4,000 participating dancers from 28 countries. Impressively, Jarryd’s work with youth has gained the co-operation and trust of his own community. In the absence of local, municipal or national funding, he managed to raise money from local business to support this trip.

Jarryd Watson is indeed a local - and perhaps until now, unsung - hero and “dance champion” of this city. Germaine to this award is that Eric Shabalala was Jarryd’s first contemporary dance teacher, and so in honouring Jarryd, the legacy and memory of Eric Shabalala is also honoured.