Wezile Mgibe to perform at Pretoria festival

Bay creative invited to dance at the new-look Dance Umbrella Africa

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Port Elizabeth creative Wezile Mgibe has been invited to perform at the new-look Dance Umbrella Africa festival at the South African State Theatre (SAST) in Pretoria later this month.
Mgibe has been working on a solo dance piece titled The Great Wall for the festival, which is curated by acclaimed choreographer and dancer Mamela Nyamza, also the SAST deputy artistic director.
“It’s a big privilege because I am the only one from the Eastern Cape,” he said this week of the invite, adding that Nyamza had seen his work In These Streets when he performed this at the Iziko Gallery in Cape Town in 2018.
His new offering builds on themes of the black body – male in particular – and how this figure has been treated on this continent.
“The Great Wall explores the significant roles played by African men and it looks closely at why hyper masculinity can be so toxic to black men,” the Bay artist said.
His preparation has included presenting snippets to small audiences around the city as he workshops the piece.
“This is one of the pathways I undergo as part of the creative process when developing new work, sharing work and opening a dialogue.”
As Mgibe sees it, hyper masculinity in black men dates back to the days of slavery.
“Black men were hyper masculinised by slave owners to be seen as a brick wall, good for hard labour and heavy lifting. Slave auctioneers didn’t want the male slaves they were selling to appear soft.
“A strong black man with no emotions who was ready to obey their masters was a slave owner’s dream.”
His vision is to show the fragility of this hard shell as well as how it can be stripped back or healed, in a dance piece which uses music, lighting, images, costume and movement.
Dance Umbrella Africa 2019’s theme is “Figure-Ring – The State of Dance in Africa”. It will include genres such as home-grown isiPantsula through to classical, contemporary, dance theatre and performance art.
The original, long-running national festival known as Dance Umbrella folded in 2018, which is when the SAST stepped in to re-develop it as a young-centred project. In the programme, Nyamza outlines why SAST “rescued, revived and revamped” it.
“Dance Umbrella Africa 2019 has deliberately and unapologetically invited the future of the arts: the youth, the unknown, as the majority participants of the inaugural DUA 2019.
“Yes, it might sound a cliché to say but youth is the future of this country, continent and the world.
“And it is only wise to provide the youth with vast opportunities in the arts.
“Our young people are not just our next generation of audiences but our future creative industry leaders as well.”
SAST artistic director Aubrey Sekhabi said the revised event came into being when he spoke to Nyamza after her appearance as the featured artist at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda last winter.
Mgibe’s “The Great Wall” is part of a triple bill to be performed on April 3 at the SAST Rendezvous Theatre. Dance Umbrella Africa runs from March 31 to April 7...

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