When the Street met the Stage South Africa's New Dance Styles

Perfect Storm Pantsula
Perfect Storm Pantsula | Photo: © John Hogg

Nondumiso Msimanga reports on the new Street Beat Platform.

It seems the youth of the country are steering us into a new cultural revolution. The New School in dance is in hip hop (as in music), pantsula and iSbhujwa. iSbhujwa was cultivated in the democratic era with the development of new kwaito dances that celebrate the ability of being “young, gifted and black”, to use the famous jazz phrase.

But Street Dance is no longer only for black youth or the “street”. It is a style in collaboration with the latest of hip hop and pantsula that brings stories of what it means to be South African today.

At the Dance Umbrella’s inaugural Street Beat festival, the Wits Theatre was packed with young and old, ranging from six to 60.

It was a hesitant start, though. There were forgotten words and moves. As the dancers struggled to thrill the audience – who applauded timidly at the end of the first two pieces – it seemed that Street Beat might have been a failed experiment.

Street Beat is the brainchild of Matthews “Oupa” Manamela, a dancer turned co-ordinator. It is a forum that replaces the Stepping Stones segment of Dance Umbrella. Where Stepping Stones was a free-for-all platform for all types of community dance groups to test their pieces in front of an audience, Street Beat is specifically conceived to bring about bringing these street dance forms onto the stage for the paying theatre audience.

“One of my objectives was to create pieces that can be performed for theatre,” Manamela says passionately, his faith in the potential of this venture unshaken. He was prepared for some false starts, knowing that “with some (groups) it will be difficult to shift into the theatre”.

Sibusiso Douglas, a dancer with Vilacosta, articulates the same sentiment regarding bridging the gap between thestreets to the stage. He says: “Asikhonanga ukusebenzisa i-prop e-stage”, meaning that they did not get a chance to rehearse with the props on the stage.

From Struggle to Success was the second pantsula piece of the day, following an untitled performance by Soweto Junxion. The applause at the end of the pantsula dances was rivalled only by the cacophony of sounds during the performances.

Men whistled, women ululated, girls shouted “Ayi ayi ayi” and children jumped about on the floor, wanting to join in. It was a picture of South Africa expressing its joy. A member of the audience, Raffi Gabeyan, had a wide smile when he said “the creativity of the choreography… they are using props that we are used to everyday and it is very South African.” Gestures of reading newspapers and shaking heads, looking at the time and waiting for taxis, begging and sweeping, hands on breaking backs as the wheels of time turning were made visible to the rhythm of crates spinning on whitegloved fingers.

After the interval, Manamela’s idea truly danced. The hip hop dance by Mpho Ramogase and Siyabonga Ndaba and iSbujwa choreography of Mpho Ramarou took the best elements of Street Dance’s technical prowess and sheer entertainment value to a new height with their quirky integration of theatrical storytelling.

Manamela was particularly proud of the two groups’ growth during the process of mentorship that challenged their usual two-minute routine in the creation of 10-minute works. “You went through a journey of an interesting hip hop piece,” he says, adding: “iSbhujwa had everything you want in Afrofusion dance!”

Not only was it “a great experience”, as many dancers said, but Ramogase says this could be the turning point the country’s youth have been waiting for.

“We depend on competitions to make money so this is a stepping stone to a career.”

This article was first published in The Sunday Independent, March 8, 2015.

Information on the Dance Writers Workshop:
Young arts writers find it increasingly difficult to find a foothold in the mainstream press. This is even more so the case when it comes to dance and performance – an area of the arts often deemed difficult to access via words.
For this reason, the Goethe-Institut, in collaboration with the Dance Forum, for the third time hosts the Dance Writing Workshop running parallel to the Dance Umbrella Festival. The aim is to nurture, discover and support new writing talent in this field, but also to get established journalists to engage with contemporary dance. Mary Corrigall facilitated the workshop.
This year’s participants shared ideas about the role of gender in contemporary choreography, a timely topic to tie in with current debates, but also with the platform for female choreographers that is part of Dance Umbrella 2015.