Written by Diani Gernandt, FADCreationS for DanceDirectory
In the month of May, FADCreationS is releasing their brand new third series of instructional dance DVD’s, launching the first of its kind “African Dance” style DVD. The “African Dance” an introduction DVD, choreographed and taught by Rampai Mohadi (recently acclaimed for his featured role opposite Brad Pitt in ‘The curious case of Benjamin Button’) now making its debut to the small screen begs the question: “What is “African Dance” and what relevance or benefit does it have for the young dancer in South Africa today?
African Dance as we know it today, is far cry from the shape it took and the purpose it served in it’s original tribal form, many moons ago. The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of African Dance is the outline of a footprint in the shape of Africa, so well branded since the opening of the internationally acclaimed musical, African Footprint, produced by Richard Loring, in 2000. Rampai Mohadi and FADCreationS’ own Ferdinand Gernandt were among the privileged few to be part of the original debut cast and also to experience the thrill of performing at the 2000 Royal Variety Show and meeting Prince Charles in person. Since it’s opening African Footprint called the Globe Theatre at Gold Reef City it’s home for many years, has toured across many countries and has been a showcasing platform for over 5 different casts of performers. It is safe to say that African Footprint is one of the longest running musicals in South Africa and proves that African is not only a popular art form, but that there exists a huge market, a need and hunger for this style, not only within our community, but internationally as well.
The second, and by no means lesser, production of African Dance that must be mentioned is Umoja, created by Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni, receiving critical acclaim locally and in London’s West End. With these productions excavating a well hidden treasure of audiences for future performing artists, it serves to look at some of the pioneers and first few daring individuals or institutions who promoted and provided platforms for this unique style.
“African Dance is a performing art deeply woven into the social fabric of Africa and generally involving aspects of music and theatre, as well as rhythmic bodily movement.” - The Encyclopedia Britannica
Within traditional African culture, the act of a dance is most often linked to the relationship or bond between spiritual forces and the community. Whether performed as a team dance, often in circular formations or as a solo dance, the performance would always nurture and inherent spiritual or expressive purpose and intention. African traditional dance has been linked to purposes on religious, social, educational and even therapeutic levels. Rituals for healing, funeral rites, remembering victories of past warriors, celebrating fruitful harvests or work, marriages, adolescence to adulthood, initiation rituals, defining authority and displaying sexual fertility are some of the many initiatives of dance rituals that have stemmed into African Dance.
The steps or movement patterns will differ from one culture to the next and is influenced by a variety of factors. The environment is distinctly visible within certain styles e.g. Desert tribes will conserve their energy; spacious and dry terrain will allow for heavy, solid movement; whereas rapid light movement will be more common to those use to swampy, unsteady footing. Historical facts, social circumstances, dress patterns and architecture also contributed to diverse mixtures of movement, gesture and posture. More recently though, it has been slave trading, wars, migrations, the opening of trade routes and therefore exposure to various other cultures, that has influenced much change and evolution in the African style of dance.
Three new styles of African dance have emerged, traditional, neo-traditional and contemporary. Modern transport, communication, education, social and cross-cultural influences have helped stimulate creative individuals to find and create new experimental patterns that raise the bar and break the mould of traditional African Dance. “Afro-fusion” a term and concept coined by Moving Into Dance’s legendary and pioneering leader Sylvia Glasser is one of these newly developed genres. Afro-fusion combines formal dance training and technique with the true African Spirit.
Organised or government funded arts festivals have been the predominant force behind development, change and providing a platform for this art form. Adrienne Sichel, acclaimed arts critic, together with fellow critic and writer, Marilyn Poole, were instrumental in the birth of Dance Umbrella in 1989 as one of the largest and most experimental of these festivals in South Africa. Moving Into Dance – Mophatong have through their community dance teachers training course produced dancer/choreographer talents such as Vincent Mantsoe, Gregory Maqoma and Moeketsi Koena who where all given the opportunity of a platform through Dance Umbrella and other festivals.
Other names involved in the drive and history of African and contemporary dance in SA are; Cape Town’s Jazzart Dance Theatre, Johannesburg’s Free Flight Company, the Soweto Dance Company, the PACT and NAPAC Dance Companies and Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company of Durban.
“Dance is one of the few things in this country that has done all the cross cultural reconciling but it needs a careful infrastructure and policy which these young pioneers have to sort out” - Adrienne Sichel
Over time African has become a household name or at least a ‘dance studio –h old name’ and is an ever growing phenomenon within the dance community. African dance is cross-cultural and breaks the boundaries and stigmas we as dancers have been bound to. It creates an opportunity for technical training focused around the dancer’s agility, groundedness, strengthening of the abdominal area or ‘centre’ and explores expression and emoting, unique to the body and ability of each performer. Even if a young dancer is not seeking the technical benefits of this style, it is a truly fun and enjoyable way to train and celebrate movement. FADCreationS has joined the drive and encourage others to explore and learn about this style of dance that has been born and grown on our very continent. As our Rampai says, “Find the animal inside you and explore, question and create!”
For more information or to Order a DVD from FADCreations, contact:firstname.lastname@example.org
Ferdinand: 083 357 4302
Diani: 082 782 7145
For more information on Folk dancing, visit the DanceKids website.www.DanceKids.co.za