by Victoria Graaf-Raw
Instead of sitting in the normally sedate Open Air Theatre, I am surrounded by laughter, liveliness and utter pandemonium that only the Jomba! Youth Fringe can bring.
The event, organised by Durban’s Flatfoot Dance Company (through Jomba!) has become a highlight of the festival — each year celebrating dance through community, and community through dance.
This is the third consecutive year that the Open Air Theatre (UKZN — Howard College Campus) has been the home to the vibrant Jomba! Youth Fringe. Every year since its inception in (2008), the Youth Fringe has been a place of various communities coming together to encourage dance (in whichever style) for children 16 years or younger.
The Youth Fringe is host to many of dance development programmes run throughout KZN by a variety of companies and individuals. It also hosts a range of community dance groups and often too traditional dance groups.
Although the Youth Fringe is part of the contemporary dance festival, the platform offers an open invitation to dancers and choreographers from a range of genres and styles, both traditional and contemporary. This year the Youth Fringe offered works ranging in style from ballet (Phakama Dance Theatre) to is’Pantsula (MOB, Cornubia) alongside contemporary styles and fusions.
This being my first time experiencing The Youth Fringe, I was amazed by the technical precision of these young dancers. Who had obviously dedicated hours of their time to rehearse. What also stood out was the range of choreographic skill on display. To create for dancers (as young as 4) is no small challenge! All in all the combination of young dancers and challenging (though often very entertaining choreography) made for a very enjoyable afternoon!
Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects about seeing these performances was the support and engagement the children gave to one another. As they cheered and interacted with the works as they were performed, singing along and yelling words and sounds of encouragement.
The programme ran for roughly two hours and we were privileged enough to see +/- 200 children perform their hearts out. Dance works included Leegan Peffer’s African heart Beat — a contemporary ballet piece performed by all girls, in ballet tights, leotards, dainty hands and pointed toes. I found seeing this kind of classical style in an unconventional space — surround by the foliage and rough concrete floors, quite refreshing.
Another notable performance was a quartet from Kwamashu. Under the mentorship of the Flatfoot Dance Company’s Project Siyakhula, called Siyagida #2. The piece was choreographed by Sifiso Khumalo and Tshediso Kabulu and echoed their style of grace, precision and immense detail of technicality. The four boys worked in mesmerizing synchronicity, breaking into solos that resonated themes of manhood, coming of age and the discourse of men in society. Ultimately, the boys that had started the piece glided off the stage as men, in my eyes.
There is something so wonderful about seeing young children becoming involved and passionate about something they want to excel at, this festival shows these children that there is a platform for dance as long as they continue to be dedicated to their craft.
Another aspect that picks up on the encouragement of young performers is the Jomba! Fringe, which is on Tuesday 30 August at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre.