Dance Umbrella Africa Festival Is Back!

The new branded Dance Umbrella Africa is back and better than ever. The 30-year festival which had to change locations because of funding issues will be on from March 31 to April 7. The festival will be on at the South African State Theatre (SAST) in Pretoria. The Daily Vox team spoke to SAST Deputy Artistic Director Mamela Nyamza and dancer Gaby Saronouffi.

The Dance Umbrella festival shut down in 2018 during its 30th anniversary due to funding woes. The SAST decided to house the festival renaming it Dance Umbrella Africa. This year’s festival will take place under the theme: “Figure-ring the State of Dance in Africa.”

The festival’s renamed to Dance Umbrella Africa to align with the new Pan-African artistic vision of the festival. Nyamza says it was the Theatre’s Artistic Theatre Director who used the name during a meeting. “He referred to Dance Umbrella as Dance Umbrella Africa and the name was appropriate so we stuck to it,” Nyamza said.

It was the Director who made the decision to bring the festival to the Pretoria-based Theatre. Nyamza met with the previous director of the Dance Umbrella Georgina Thomson who ceded the rights to the show to her.

The festival is an exciting space. It’s made up of dancers and artists. Nyamza says: “In this re-launch, the art lovers and patrons will have a chance to witness a revived Dance Festival, with a vein of happiness, relaxation and indeed commitment to the future of the Arts.”

With the rebrand, the festival embraces a diversity of dance genres from authentic South African Dance ‘sipantsula to diverse classical, contemporary, dance theatre and performance art. Over 50 different artistic works will be shown with artists from African countries, the United States, Australia and more.

The Performances

One of the performers at the show is Gaby Saronouffi, a dancer from Madagascar. She is working with three local dancers on a piece about gender-based violence. Saronouffi has been a part of the programme for more than 10 years. She’s excited about the new era of the festival.

“Mamela says Dance Umbrella is featuring Africa and I found that really interesting,” says Saronouffi adding: “It is difficult to meet with other African artists because of the economy side of it and we don’t have money to go there and it’s difficult to travel in Africa. It is limiting us to do a cultural exchange by brilliant artists all around Africa.”

Nyamza says the festival wants to give young artists to explore and grow. “Yes, most of them will be totally unfamiliar to the audiences, but what is important is the achievement of the transformative experience of the audience: and this is what true art is constantly seeking,” Nyamza says.

Her performance titled ‘Moi’ deals with gender-based violence. She created the piece as solo and this will be the first time she performs it with other people. Saronouffi says: “I proposed to Mamela that I want to share this subject with the young South African women. That’s why I recreated the programme with three ladies from South Africa. It was really interesting because they relate to the piece themselves. [With] more voices of women we get heard more.”

Saronouffi wants to share the piece with schoolchildren and start conversations around gender-based violence in school. “This violence is not starting when we are big but it is starting at a young age. We need to address this kind of issue with the youth of today through this piece,” she said.

“I hope the audience will have enough space to open up. In terms of dance and politics we cannot run away from politics,” says Saronouffi about how she hopes people interact with her piece.

What Art Meaning

Saronouffi says art is a way of showing our roots. “Art is important for young people. We must always know our roots and art plays an important role in that. It’s important to teach children where they come from so that they can have morals and values,” she says.

For Nyamza the arts are a heartbeat of every nation. She says: “We need the arts for various things. They keep us conscious as a people and constantly remind us who we are where we’re going. Every dance, theatre, musical and visual production, that make us engage fulfils the social cohesion mandate of our country.” However, she says the arts are not adequately supported in funding and that needs to change.

Tickets for the show will be available at Webtickets from R80 to R100. The show runs from March 31 to April 7.

Featured image provided by South African State Theatre.