Words and Video by Chelsea Haith, Photographs by Sarah de Villiers
Six men gather outside the Rhodes University Drama Department. It’s a Saturday morning and a few of the guys are slightly hungover. However, before their director, Nomcebisi Moyikwa, arrives they begin practicing, stomping and clapping, checking patterns with one another as their bodies beat out the familiar South African rhythm of gumboot dancing.
On 30 May, the men will dance through the streets of Grahamstown from Nombulelo High School to Rhodes’ campus, engaging whomever they pass in their dancing. This will not be the first dance-march the men have undertaken but it will be less publicized than the first. This is so as to allow the participants to gauge the reactions of the unwitting public to their dance invasion.
“Last year it was mainly about disturbing the different ideas of masculinities,” Moyikwa said. This year the group’s aim is to discuss the ‘art of breathing’, a concept that Moyikwa said came out of the participants’ discussions about the #RhodesMustFall #RhodesSoWhite movement. The group’s objective is “to create a world where society can move together, move through dance or in a movement for some sort of transformation”.
The Gatherings or Intlangano project was born out of Moyikwa’s 2012 Honours in Applied Theatre. The current focus of the project is on the process of constructing theatre; something the Moyikwa feels is not usually available to the audience.
“I was interested in the way that learning how to make theatre gave people life skills,” she said, explaining how the project has become a community exchange programme in which 11 men from Rhodes University and Grahamstown East explore social issues through dance.
“Within that ‘making’ a dialogue is happening between people from different backgrounds,” she said, speaking about the collaboration between Rhodes students and gumboot and isipantsula dancers from the township. “For me the idea is to merge the two worlds,” she explained.
The new dances that will be performed in the coming weeks explore the historical importance of gumboot dancing as a form of communication and protest under the apartheid regime. “We see these dances being done over and over but people are not paying attention to what they mean,” Moyikwa said.
“We try to fatigue the body to get the visceral responses to the dances that have been taught to us,” she said, explaining the physically taxing dance-march the men will undertake.
Moyika works as a performer and facilitator in the First Physical Theatre Company and is the founder and director of the Intlangano. The dancers featured in the video are Damian van Selm, Mlondiwethu Dubazane, Masixole Heshu, Smangaliso Ngwena, Rafé Green and Likhaya Jack.
Watch the video here: