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THE PANDEMIC PROJECT
by UJ Arts & Culture & Khaya Ndlovu, Athena Mazarais, Sunnyboy Motau, Fana Tshabalala, Ignatius van Heerden
Being in a confined space when you are used to being out and free, you eventually start living in your thoughts. This made me write a poem which is illustrated my feelings while creating this work. What I created was a visual journal rather than a dancer dancing to music but, rather leaving thoughts that are connected through movement.
Personally, I was affected positively and negatively because I always wanted to go digital But finding a to retain that face to face impact that artist need within their workspace has been hard to balance. Yes, financially it hits deeper. If you are not connected with WIFI then it will take a toll on your pocket.
It saddens me to see that theatre spaces have been affected badly by COVID-19. However, this is the perfect time for the arts to evolve".
At Our Fingertips work explores a number of colliding themes.
Performed by Mazarakis, Alex Halligey and Jennifer Halligey, it considers the spatial contraction of our lived experiences which pushes us into unprecedented levels of online engagement. With lives framed more and more by the digital screen, the world is simultaneously at our fingertips, and entirely out of reach. But we are social beings, contact and touch are essential to our neurobiology and so, in this new normal we voraciously seek this contact at the bleeding edge of the virtual and the real.
This in-between of the touchless virtual space and the real rendered virtual too through a lack of proximity, closeness and grounding touch. A new virtual real where touch triggers anxiety and distance protects. A new virtual real where restriction and isolation defend and become expressions of social solidarity and care.
Inspired by the time spent in the same space, over and over again, Motau attempts to balance the draining monotony of lockdown with the need to stay safe. The comfort of home and daily routine is lost to the sense of endlessness. “Without the hope of getting out, as comfortable as your home may be, it gets draining because you don't know what else to do.”
Motau questions the changes artists need to start implementing to ensure the survival of their craft. “I wake up every day and think what else to do and where to go to from here, but I can't move I just have to keep on the same routine daily so that my family is safe.”
In a closed space dominated by the ubiquitous washing line, a mask-clad Motau moves between the sense of trapped endlessness and creative freedom. Same Routine 21+ is performed to the UJ Choir’srendition of Sakhiwe a traditional Zion-gospel song that directly translates to the text in Ephesians 2:20, arranged by S Nyamezele.
IGNATIUS van HEERDEN
BìNGDú is the Chinese translation of the word virus and is van Heerden’s direct mental and emotional reaction to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Built around the image of a cage, van Heerden captures the deep sense of isolation and loss of freedom so many felt during the Covid19 lockdown.
“The idea that an unseen enemy can force the entire world into isolation just messed with my mind. Being a person who interacts with people daily, being in an isolated environment got me thinking and assessing all the time.”
“My thoughts became a virus on their own. Caged due to fear, enslaved to an intelligent virus,” states van Heerden.
Setto the UJ Choir’s rendition of His Eye is on the Sparrow by Charles H Gabriel, arranged by Ben Bram, van Heerden found the words of the piece deeply resonated with him.
Why should I feel discouraged?
And why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart feel lonely
And long for heavenly home
When Jesus is my portion?
My constant friend is He
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me
“The song that was given to me immediately resonated with me. In Chinese culture, the sparrow is considered to bring good luck and fortune. It also is a symbol of joy, simplicity and community. In the Biblical sense, the sparrow is believed to show us how to focus on our own lives. A caged sparrow would then most likely be in the same situation that we are currently at.”
FANA TSHABALALA, South African multi-award-winning dancer, choreographer and co-founder of Broken Borders Art Project.
“My piece ‘Confined by Numbers’ is the exploration of the unstable mental state. The constant changes in its surrounding affect its ability to be independent. The only way to survive, is to re-imagine and re-create the context of every moment and experience”, says Fana Tshabalala.
The Pandemic Project
On 11 May, the UJ Choir launched its 9th album, When the Earth Stands Still, and with it came an emotional interdisciplinary project, The Pandemic. UJ Arts & Culture, a division of the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA) at the University of Johannesburg, invited visual artists & choreographers and 40 UJ Arts Academy poets to develop a new work inspired by music from the UJ Choir’s When the Earth Stands Still album.
At UJ Arts & Culture we believe that the arts are not limited to physical performance or exhibition spaces and with us not being able to utilise these to connect with and serve our audiences and students, we have to undertake bold experiments. Having worked across disciplines for a number of years now, UJ Arts & Culture naturally gravitates towards collaborative work and this time is no different,” says Pieter Jacobs, head of the department.
Other than the initial lockdown time period, there were no aesthetic restrictions on the commission and a literal interpretation of ‘the pandemic’ was not expected. Each creative was assigned one of the 20 tracks on the UJ Choir’s album and was required to submit a short time-lapse video of the work in creation. The final artworks will be published on the UJ Arts & Culture online platform and will be presented in an exhibition at the UJ Art Gallery as soon as less stringent social distancing measures are necessary.
While the impetus of The Pandemic was derived from the desire to celebrate one of the few projects that was not wholly affected by the pandemic and its resulting lockdowns, it took on a far greater purpose. The Pandemic has given UJ Arts & Culture an opportunity to support artists financially, albeit modestly, and emotionally and give them a space to create a new artwork in solidarity with other artists. While unplanned and unexpected, The Pandemic speaks strongly to the UJ Arts & Culture 2020 vision of bringing the arts #CloseToHeART, emphasising what matters most to the department. Furthermore, it progresses FADA’s growing interdisciplinary approach to the arts in academia and presentation.
Khaya Ndlovu is a 28-year-old South African born performer and artist. She began her training at the tender age of three with Pat Jones completing all vocational and major exams through the Royal Academy of Dance.
Khaya furthered her training at The National School of the Arts with a focus on her Ballet, Contemporary, Jazz and African Dance Studies. Whilst in school, she attendedMzansi Ballet Theatre (formerly known as The South African Ballet TheatreSchool) and participated in productions by the company at the time.
Athena Mazarakis is the founder and Managing Director of EMBODIMENT NOW. She holds a Masters Degree in Dramatic Arts and has come to Embodiment Practices through a 25-year career as an award-winning choreographer & physical performer, researcher, lecturer and movement arts educator. From 2016 – 2019 Athena held the position of Development Manager at The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative’s trailblazing Ebhudlweni Arts Centre, in rural Mpumalanga. She continues to serve as an Executive Director on the Board of The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative while pursuing her interest in the embodiment field. Athena believes that there has never been a greater time of need for the work of embodiment than NOW - this NOW of physical distancing, of global pandemic and the reformulation of a new normal.
Sunnyboy Motau dances and choreographs for MIDM’sProfessional Dance Company. He began his training with the community arts groups in Alexandra. In 2008 he joined MIDM as part of the Performing ArtsTraining Course (PATC).
His first choreographed solo, Within Me, was presented at the Dance Umbrella 2010 as part of the Stepping StonesProgramme and subsequently at MIDM’s Dancing into Summer season. In 2010he participated in the Crossings International Choreography Workshops and worked with Michel Kelemenis and Vincent Mantsoe. He toured world-wide with Robyn Orlin’s Beauty Remained… and he toured Russia as part of the Russian / South African Season in 2016.
Fana Tshabalala is the 2013 Standard Bank Young Artist Award recipient for Dance. The 2014 Visas for Creation recipient and the 2018 Black Excellence Award winner in Chicago Illinois. Tshabalala is also the former associate artistic director for the Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative.
Tshabalala has been choreographing and performing his work locally and internationally, one of his works titled “Between” was part of Dance Dialogue Africa. “Between” toured Germany and later toured Africa reaching 12 countries and 14 cities. He was also part of the choreographic workshop that took place in South Africa where he worked with dancers from Ballet Geneva and other South African choreographers.
In early 2015, he worked with Nanziwe Mzuzu a writer from Cape Town on a TV documentary commissioned by ETV, which was inspired by his latest solo titled “Man”. He has also worked with children from the Kliptown Youth Programme on two dance movies that became a runner up for a short film competition in Paris.
More recently, he was awarded a Mellon artistic residency where he choreographed a full-length work for Flat Foot Dance Company and worked on his solo titled “Zann”. Fana Tshabalala is currently the co-founder and artistic director for Broken borders Art Project.
Ignatius van Heerden displays his extensive dance training skills in the styles of Jazz, Ballet, and Contemporary Dance. He has successfully obtained a number of accolades over the last decade, which include, The FNB Vita Award for the Most Promising Male Dancer, a Naledi Award for the Best Ensemble Performance in a musical and A Merit Award at the National Arts Festival for excellence in creativity and innovation in his work 6 impossible things for Oakfields College Faculty of Dance and Musical Theatre. Most recent works include Four, a dance season for Oakfields College, and the highly acclaimed Nijinsky’s War which received a prestigious Standard Bank Ovation Award for artistic excellence along with six BroadwayWorld.com, four SA Theatre Magazine and four Naledi Theatre Award nominations. His latest one hander Birthing Nureyev was received with immense critical acclaim.