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Thursday, August 29, 2013


(Francisco Camacho in "The King in Exile")

Jomba! Artistic Director launches battle cry at opening of annual dance festival. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Last night saw the opening of the 15th Jomba! Festival presented under the auspices of the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Welcoming the near-capacity audience in her opening speech, the Artistic Director of Jomba!, Lliane Loots, paid tribute to those organisations and individuals who made the festival possible as well as the dancers and choreographers who continued to produce critical and thought-provoking work.

Loots’s opening speeches are always impassioned, an indication of the driving and selfless force that is behind her award-winning Flatfoot Dance Company. This year’s speech was no different and the subject matter was, sadly, no different. Always outspoken and critical, she bemoaned the fact that South Africa’s government policies seem to honour the formation of regulating structures rather than creative ones. In the process, this silences contemporary art-makers who are finding themselves without long-term funding support. She put forward the battle cry that the integrity of creative artists was being challenged and that it is their duty to be the “never silent conscience of the nation.”

The opening programme presented two works: B.L.E.N.D. choreographed by local Durban-based dancer Desiré Davids and Hélène Cathala of France, as well as The King in Exile, choreographed by Francisco Camacho (Portugal).

Working with suspended and floor-based neon lights as well as portable speakers, movable set pieces and evocative video imaging, B.L.E.N.D. offers a collaboration between a “coloured” South African dancer and a “white” French dancer who look at their various lives and backgrounds and how they connect in the South Africa of today. The way the title is written is a strong indication of what is to come. The word “blend” means merging, combining, unifying. However, the full-stop between each letter indicates that this is not an easy process. This is carried out effectively in the work as the dancers connect, disconnect, dance together but not in tandem, distance themselves from each other and eventually dance in unison. A strong feature is their partial removal of their tops – almost as if they were trying to get out of their own skin.

The King In Exile is a stark and powerful solo piece featuring Francisco Camacho and drawing its inspiration from the figure of Dom Manuel II, the last king of Portugal. More historical background would have been helpful here in order to better understand the character portrayed. Trapped by the baggage of a royal robe of fur and a briefcase full of red sand, Carnacho presented an excellent performance, made more compelling as much by the silences as by the skilful choice of music. We saw man of noble birth made a king but trapped in exile committed to die for his country but powerless to reign.

Both dance works were filled with impressive movement and imagery. However, with both pieces, the choreographers’ voyage towards their goal or message became too convoluted, with the important aims they were trying to convey dangerously reaching the point where they drowned in over-exposure. Less is always more, however difficult this is for a creative artist to accept.

However, I do urge audiences to support their second performance tonight (August 29) and to take part in the post-show discussion which is bound to be interesting and revealing. Wish I could be there!

The 15th annual JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience runs until September 8 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at 19h30. Tickets R50 (R35 scholars/students/pensioners) booked through Computicket (or at venue from one hour before). For more information, visit or Facebook (JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience) and Twitter (Twitter@Jomba_dance) – Caroline Smart