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Choreographer, art activist Mamela named Jomba! 2023 Legacy Artist

Contemporary dance festival celebrates 25 years

Choreographer and dancer, Mamela Nyamza is this year's Jomba! 2023 Legacy Artist.
Choreographer and dancer, Mamela Nyamza is this year's Jomba! 2023 Legacy Artist.
Image: Val Adamson

Award-winning choreographer and art activist Mamela Nyamza, who has been creating works that challenge sterotypes, has added another accolade under her name. 

Born in Gugulethu, Cape Town, Nyamza was this week honoured when Jomba! Festival announced her as Jomba! 2023 Legacy Artist.

Jomba (which means to jump in Zulu) is one of SA’s renowned contemporary dance festivals, which has been happening for 25 years.

It has given many local dancers a platform to showcase their talent.

Other artists including Jay Pather, Vincent Sekwati Mantsoe and Musa Hlatshwayo have been honoured at the festival. 

Nyamza, who has danced on international stages, says she is honoured by the gesture.

She regards the honour as a pat in the back for all the great work she has been doing over three decades. 

“The announcement came...as a surprise. It is a great honour to be named a Legacy Artist when the festival celebrates 25 years. It is such a remarkable thing," Nyamza gushes.

"There is nothing that pleases you like being recognised at home because it just shows you are in the right direction even though there are no opportunities in mainstream theatre.

"Being recognised at home as an artist means a lot. I have always advocated for the arts all my artistic life. But I am excited that at least I will have an opportunity to perform in mainstream theatres and my work be seen.”

Mamela Nyamza performing one of her dance masterpieces called Hatched.
Mamela Nyamza performing one of her dance masterpieces called Hatched.
Image: Jan Potgieter

Having created dance shows like De-Apart-Hate, Hatched, I Stand Corrected, Isingqala and Amafongkong, Nyamza believes that the honour came at the right time. 

For over the past 30 years, her work focuses on socio-political themes such as violence, rape and lesbian identity.  

She interrogates the dance medium of classical ballet and challenges the conventions for traditional dance norms.

Nyamza explains that the acknowledgement came at the right time when her profile is established even internationally. She has toured the world, set in international jury panels and curated international shows.  

“It happens exactly the way it is supposed to be. I am now in my late 40s, I’m an established artist and I am a role model as well as a company leader. I now have a dance company called Mamela Dance Movement.

"All of this, it aligns with where I am artistically. I am pleased that this recognition came now. Jomba has helped my artistic career by featuring me in their festival. It is not about money, it is about having space to showcase what you can do and express yourself. I have faced many challenges in this industry, but I have risen above them.

"I love that I now get invited to curate work internationally and have set in international jury panel judging international dance competitions. It’s like I am living my dream and this is my terrain. I am happy that at my age I am exactly where I am supposed to be. People are studying about me and my career."

Choreographer and dancer, Mamela Nyamza is this year's Jomba! 2023 Legacy Artist.
Choreographer and dancer, Mamela Nyamza is this year's Jomba! 2023 Legacy Artist.
Image: Val Adamson

Being Jomba! Legacy Artist means that Nyamza will produce work that will be performed during the festival in Durban.

Since the festival has partnered with the Market Theatre, after the Durban run, she will be performing in Johannesburg.  

“I will have to create new work. The hard work starts in June. It is a big year for me artistically, it is for the first time that I feel like creating work for younger generation.

"Now I am a behind-the-scenes person. I have been a professional dancer and choreographer for the past 40 years."

Nyamza was trained in dance at the Zama Dance School under the Royal Academy of Dance.

She furthered her studies at Pretoria Technikon, where she obtained a national diploma in ballet.

In 1998, she received a scholarship to study dance at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre in New York, US.

Thereafter, she joined the State Theatre Dance Company and also attended choreography workshops at the Vienna International Dance Festival.

bambalelep@sowetan.co.za

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