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Thursday, September 6, 2012


Musa Hlatshwayo delivers his usual richly layered presentation. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Multi-award winning Durban dancer and choreographer Musa Hlatshwayo is the 2012 winner of the JOMBA!’s Contemporary Dance Experience festival’s much-prized New Works Grant.

Hlatshwayo has chosen to use this grant to complete his trilogy that looks at Nguni identity and its part in the formation of the Zulu Kingdom. Following Dayimane and uZulu noQwabe, the third piece is titled Aba(ka)ntu.

Dayimane focused on the role played by Nguni cows in the historical and contemporary socio-political identity of the Nguni people. It was also intended to be an introduction to the possible cause of separation between Malandela’s sons: Zulu and Qwabe. Malandela is the ancestral father of AmaNguni or AbeNguni.

uZulu noQwabe further probes the contentious debate surrounding the rightful owner of Malandela’s cattle after his death, looking at the complex and various calamities that befell amaNguni as a result of the feud between his sons.

Aba(ka)ntu attempts to dig deeper into the possible origins of “umuntu” prior to Malandela’s era. It seeks a possible definition of what being ‘umuntuongumnguni’ (a Nguni person) meant back then and what it means nowadays from a perspective informed by renowned historians such as Credo Mutwa.

The opening captures one’s attention immediately. Birdsong fills the theatre and two transparent drops carry video images of traditional lifestyle. The costumes of the cast are impressive – warrior style skirts made of strips of leather, gauntlets and calf coverings – and a tall shrouded mystical character sports a long train that is essentially African although adorned with lace, net and brocade.

Traditional clothing becomes over-layered with numerous western-styled jackets, trousers and skirts almost to the extent where the wearers are swamped by their clothing. As the acceptance and understanding of their identities become part of their consciousness, they shed all trappings in a moving cleansing routine.

Hlatshwayo delivers his usual richly layered presentation which is often laced with humour. It also contains some very dramatic sequences and Hlatshwayo, who takes the leading role, proves that he has strong acting abilities. Tradition mixes with contemporary without jarring and the sincerity of the message he aims to convey in his work is always evident.

All credit to the cast for fine performances. Appearing alongside Hlatshwayo are Imbongi James Mbhele, Sifiso Cele, Thobe Gumede and Anathi.

Hlatshwayo’s past projects can be accessed via Mhayise Productions on Facebook. – Caroline Smart