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Mamela Nyamza's De-Apart-Hate At Dance Umbrella

Nyamza's work starts with herself first. It reflects her life experiences as a descendent of a domestic worker and a lesbian living in South Africa.

23/02/2017 04:53 SAST | Updated 23/02/2017 04:53 SAST
Oscar O'Ryan

Cape Town based and award winning dancer, teacher, choreographer and artist-activist, Mamela Nyamza knows all too well about rejection.

From her youth, her well-toned black body and natural physical structure were criticised as being unsuitable for ballet. Always cast as the 'understudy' she never made it as a fully-fledged ballerina although she passed the diploma.

This is partly why she radically deconstructs the normative of dance with works such as Hatched; The Meal and The Last Attitude (with Nelisiwe Xaba) turning classical ballet on its head.

But Nyamza's work starts with herself first. It reflects her life. And her life experiences as a descendent of a domestic worker; a daughter whose mother was brutally raped and killed and a lesbian living in South Africa form part of the fabric of our politics. Hence the material she puts on stage is always a dance of the personal and political.

(Watch Hatchedhere)

Nyamza is an artist-activist who has become refined at condensing issues into artistic expression. And it is a subjective undertaking. For example, in her collaboration with UK based artist, Mojisola Adebayo she addresses homophobia and corrective rape with the powerful I Stand Corrected which premiered in South Africa in 2012 followed by a successful three-week run at the Oval House in London.

Her latest piece, De-Apart-Hate is no different, but it brings with it an urgency that Nyamza may not have expressed before. De-Apart-Hate is also a trademarked concept. At the heart of it is a call to undo the prevalent culture of separate-ness among ourselves.

Oscar O'Ryan

The production is not linear. It is layered into a kaleidoscope of sub-texts and symbolism.

"I talk about religion and politics. I include religion because the throwing of stones, homosexuality and the unsteadiness of society are all found in the Bible. This is my take of the state of the nation and it reflects the complexities of our country and its oppressive and intolerant ways. I compare this uneasiness to a see-saw and I present the shifting of our comfort zones against an intolerant system," Nyamza explains.

De-Apart-Hate was created in residency at the University of Maryland at the Clarice Performing Arts Centre in Washington, USA. It was initially shown there as a small piece and has grown over time. Having time with a project is an important part of Nyamza's creative process.

"I have to play a lot every day when creating, and working on De-Apart-Hate was rewarding because I had space, money and time. I enjoy the research process where I write down scenarios like a director. I like to come up with my own things," Nyamza says. She also goes on to express that "as a solo artist I have noticed how we disassociate with people. We're so apart. It's easy to ask white people for help, but it's harder to ask for help from your fellow black."

She doesn't like to be boxed, but she allows people to critique her body movement and physical art to their confinement. Constant characteristics of her dance work however are that it is conceptual, contemporary, topical and full of substance. She acknowledges all the teachers in her dance career and is a great believer in learning from others.

"I'm inspired by teachers and I never stop learning. It's good to know how people work and I have been mentored by many people."

Nyamza began her training as a dancer at the Zama Dance School under the Royal Academy of Dance. She continued her training at the Pretoria Technikon (now Tshwane University of Technology) where she received a National Diploma in Ballet.

Michael Blasco
Mamela Nyamza

In 1998 Nyamza received a scholarship enabling her to further her dance education at the prestigious Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre. Upon graduation, she joined the State Theatre Dance Company with whom she did performances both nationally and internationally.

Additionally, she has attended various intensive workshops and classes including a choreographic workshop at the Vienna International Dance festival, ballet training with Martin Schonberg through the Pact Dance Company, African Dance workshops in Soweto with Germaine Acogny, and a course in dance through London's prestigious Sadler's Wells Theatre.

Dance Umbrella is where she got to hone her voice and she has showed some of her well known work including Hatched; The Meal; Wena Mamela and The Last Atittude there. Nyamza says of her latest work: "The issues I put forth in De-Apart-Hate were triggered by many things that happened to me last year. One of them is that I applied to UCT for a dance teaching position. My application was unsuccessful. I felt stabbed and denied at home. It puts me on edge as an artist not sitting comfortably because the life of a dancer is short. And I've knocked on closed doors at other institutions. It's hard being alone as an artist."

"My very first work was seen at Dance Umbrella. It is a great platform to show myself in Johannesburg and to the international market whose collaborations I rely on to boost my income. It's good to work with a platform that commissions us, pays us and trusts us like Dance Umbrella," Nyamza says.

She is overcome that she will for the first time be showcasing at Durban's Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience later in the year.

Catch De-Apart-Hate at the Wits Amphitheatre on Friday and Saturday, February 24 and 25 as part of Dance Umbrella.