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Wednesday, November 7, 2018


A highly valuable publication as a well-researched and documented history and development of contemporary dance theatre is almost a university course in its own right. (Review by Caroline Smart)

The launch of Adrienne C Sichel’s book, Body Politics: Fingerprinting South African Contemporary Dance was hosted by the Flatfoot Dance Company at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on September 4, 2018, as part of the 20th JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience.

The launch, which was presented in partnership with the comprehensive contemporary dance archive, The Ar(t)chive; was hailed by Lliane Loots, artistic director of Flatfoot, as an “auspicious moment in the history of dance.”

She couldn’t have made a truer statement as the launch not only introduced the book to the public but also celebrated the special person that is Adrienne Sichel. It is an indication of Sichel’s commitment to her work that she has travelled to Durban to every single JOMBA! festival since its inception.
(Adrienne Sichel. Pic by Val Adamson)

Sichel grew up on an orange and tobacco farm and started her writing career as a fiction publisher in the Farmers Weekly. Since then she has become an icon in the dance world and is universally acknowledged as a highly committed and supportive reviewer and writer. Her path has been one of many achievements and accolades as well as challenges in trying to get the print media to give more coverage of theatre and entertainment. The book features a number of her reviews carried in the Star and Sunday Independent.

Multi-award winner Sichel describes her book as being “more concrete” than anything she has ever done. It covers the way she “saw contemporary theatre dance and physical performance functioning and evolving in the socio-politically charged, culturally divided landscape of South Africa.” A great deal of research has been done to cover all aspects of this subject. Sichel explains her responses to a number of works, sometimes candidly revealing her initial battle to understand the choreographer’s intentions.

A major feature of the book is the tremendous spread of splendid full-page photographs which capture beautiful moments of dance, the bulk of them by John Hogg who is acclaimed for his photographic expertise on dance.

The Appendix covers helpful information on South African dance festivals and companies explaining each one’s operations and achievements. There is also a section dealing with major dance training facilities in each province as well as biographies of some of South Africa’s leading contemporary dance personalities. She also has a section identifying the various genres of theatre and dance.

Body Politics: Fingerprinting South African Contemporary Dance was originally edited by Tammy Ballantyne and Claire Craighead and is published by Porcupine Press. It is a highly valuable publication as a well-researched and documented history and development of contemporary dance theatre. It is also a record of the impressive number of artists, companies and festivals who have made a major difference in this genre. It’s almost a university course in its own right!

At the launch, Sichel made the following comments: “You can’t work in a vacuum. The more work you see the better. Create your own frames. Value our own people. Have the courage and determination about going to unknown places. Have the humility to be able to offer yourself. Don’t be a sewer but one who is making that work. Your main quality is curiosity.” Good advice, indeed!

Body Politics: Fingerprinting South African Contemporary Dance was made possible through the generous support of Business and Arts South Africa (BASA), RMB, Porcupine Press and Ian Hamilton. – Caroline Smart

The Ar(t)chive, was co-founded in 2012 by filmmaker and visiting researcher at WITS University, Jessica Denyschen and veteran dance writer Adrienne Sichel. In 2017 The Ar(t)chive officially registered as an NPC. Denyschen and Sichel have over the past six years worked collaboratively to create an archive that reflects the complexly political and culturally diverse nature of South African contemporary theatre dance as it has evolved over the past 40 years. The Ar(t)chive is based in the WITS School of Arts.