Meet Luyanda Sidiya: 2015 Standard Bank Young Artist Award Winner for Dance

This first appeared in the Mail & Guardian ( ) on 30 October 2014. It was such an honour to speak to this self less artist. I’m a big fan.

Sebokeng dancing star Luyanda Sidiya gets ‘recognised among giants’

Dancer and artistic director Luyanda Sidiya has expressed his joys at taking the 2015 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year prize for dance.
Dancer Luyanda Sidiya. (Adam McConnachie)

Celebrating 30 years this year, the Standard Bank Young Artist award is the highest artistic accolade, rewarding artistic excellence to emerging talent in the country. Previous winners including Sibongile Khumalo, William Kentridge and Robyn Orlin.

“It’s overwhelming to be recognised among giants that have carried this award. It’s the biggest compliment. As a young man it gives me hope and it means people appreciate the craziness that we do,” says Sidiya, who is the artistic director of Gregory Maqoma’s Vuyani Dance Theatre.

The company has just returned from its US premiere at the prestigious Fall For Dance Festival in New York, where Sidiya presented his Afro-fusion piece, Umnikelo, to favourable reviews in the New York Times.

His acknowledgement of others reveal his humanity and it’s the common thread to his work ethic and how he creates. To him dance is a voice, it represents the power he has to effect change; impact people’s lives and to create work for posterity.

“My work is my voice and I don’t take that for granted. Just as Miriam Makeba went to the United Nations and spoke up during apartheid, I tell stories through my body. I’m always concerned about what role I’m playing for future generations,” Sidiya says emphatically.

Sarafina Boys
He started out as a traditional dancer as part of a township group called the Sarafina Boys who also dabbled in what they called modern dance. Through the group he was introduced to contemporary dance and choreography at the Dance Factory in Newtown in 1995.

It is here that he was introduced to Vincent Mantsoe’s famous solo, Gula, which had such a profound impact on him that he performed it at Finland’s Kuopio International Dance Festival in 2004. As a dancer for the Moving Into Dance Mophatong (MIDM) company, he performed nationally and internationally from Botswana, the US to Europe.

He’s also facilitated dance workshops specifically in the Afro-fusion style abroad. Sidiya spent three years in the United Kingdom working with ACE Dance and Music Company as a dancer, and went on to become a rehearsal director for the company.

In 2007, he won the award for the Most Outstanding Dancer in the Contemporary Style for Dance Umbrella. In 2012 he choreographed Umnikelo, which was part of the double bill Mayhem winning the Silver Standard Bank Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown that year.

The traditional lyricism found in his Xhosa rooted Umnikelo and the militant quality in Sidiya’s 10th work, Dominion, tackling political tyranny, shows off his versatility and adventurous spirit.

“The work we do influences the language which changes all the time. But I have a fascination with the beauty of who and what we are. I’m also inspired by people who came before me – how different am I among those giants; who am I among them speaks to how I create,” says Sidiya.

Giving hope to his fellow Sebokeng dwellers
Hailing from Sebokeng in the Vaal where he lives with his dancer-teacher wife, Thoko Sekganye (whom he met at MIDM) and their two daughters, he feels this award also gives hope to his fellow Sebokeng dwellers.

He wishes to give the area its first dance studio one day.

“I used to travel for more than an hour to study dance. I don’t like to romanticise poverty, but I’d like to make things better for other people. Many forget that Sebokeng is also in the South of Johannesburg, just like Soweto.

“We’ve had to fight for our place; for recognition. Together with Vuyani Dance Theatre, we try and plough back with the outreach programmes we bring to Sebokeng,” he says.

For the new work that he will be presenting at the National Arts Festival in 2015, Sidiya is looking to interrogate the idea of “completeness – questioning who we are in what we have.”

At the end of March 2015 he takes Dominion to Toronto, Canada.


My Mail & Guardian interview with Dada Masilo

This first appeared in the Mail & Guardian ( ) on 26 September 2014 and represents one of my most memorable 2014 moments.

Dada Masilo: Moved by her body’s emotions

Masilo embodies her characters with a distinct theatricality and has been wowing audiences in Europe with her eclectic moves.
New take on a classic: Dada Masilo in her version of Swan Lake, with which she has toured Europe for two years giving 189 performances. (John Hogg)

Dancer and choreographer Dada Masilo’s signature speed and endurance have been put to the test during a successful two-year run of mesmerising European audiences with her extraordinary work.

“At 29 I’m asking myself where I got my energy from,” she says. But her bones and soul are content when she moves, so she doesn’t stop.

Masilo has toured extensively with her version of Swan Lake and given 189 performances in France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Greece and the United Kingdom. Now she is preparing for the European premiere of Carmen at the Lyon Biennale in France.

This comes after local audiences sampled the show at three performances at the Dance Factory in Newtown, Johannesburg, in September.

Taking a moment to catch her breath and ponder on the two years she spent performing in Europe, Masilo allows herself to take it all in again.

“I did not know what hard work was before this. Touring is difficult, it is not glamorous — but it is exciting. We got an amazing response for Swan Lake. European work is very different from South African, but the audiences appreciated our raw energy.

“It was the first time we got to perform to full houses of up to 950 people. This kind of experience matures you. You start to think differently from how you did before and I’ve learnt to take care of myself.”

“When I created Swan Lake, I did not have a cover [substitute] and I had to do all the shows. But now I’ve learnt that it’s good to have someone covering me because it relieves me of the stress. You can lose the passion for your work if you don’t share it.”

A notable progression is that Masilo now has a company — of old and new friends and long-time collaborators, some of whom she has created a shorthand with, such as Tshepo Zasekhaya and Songezo Mcilizeli.

Her maturity as a performer is a personal affirmation; she remembers that she was only 23 when she created Carmen.

Besides her ability to move stylishly and swiftly, embodying her characters with a distinct theatricality, Masilo has made a name for herself out of her deep love for the classics.

Her clever interpretations that daringly fuse various dance techniques and different scores have produced ingenious takes on Romeo and Juliet (2008), Carmen (2009) and Swan Lake (2010).

Classically trained in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Brussels, Masilo was initially frustrated with Shakespeare until her teacher in Brussels encouraged her to fall in love with the language.

“Once I understood the language I got hooked on Shakespeare and the classics. I started by dancing Lady Macbeth and going deep into her character. To embody a role; finding its strength and weaknesses is challenging and I find that to be an interesting way to tell a story. I enjoy having to find the different characters in my body.

“Juliet is light and I find her in my upper body; Lady Macbeth is visceral; and Carmen is more in the hips — rough, sexual, sensual. It’s not only about telling the story but about finding the movement vocabulary for it. You have to find the emotion in the body, physically,” Masilo says.

Creatively she’s at a point where she feels she wants to push things a little further, with no apologies. So her new Carmen will be enhanced with a bit more edge.

“I want to bring realism into the production. There are quite a lot of fight scenes in Carmen and I didn’t want to choreograph them. I want things to be real and a little scary for the viewer.

“We’re also being more vocal with Carmen now because it is a dramatic story. I have found with dance there’s a point at which you can’t move anymore, and you have to vocalise an emotion.

“When we did this in Europe, they were amazed. But for me it’s about working with, and taking from, the edge and energy of Johannesburg, the edge of my roots and where I come from.”

Looking ahead, she’s toying with the idea of doing the classical ballet Giselle. She is also itching to challenge herself with Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

“Stravinsky’s music is difficult; with it I want to fuse contemporary dance with Tswana dance. That’s the next big thing I want to do.”


What I’m Looking Forward To At Arts Alive 2014

I’ve always loved the Johannesburg Arts Alive International Festival’s lovely mix of theatre, dance, music and poetry. The fest is now in its 22nd year and there are a number of shows I’m excited about and eager to see.

I’m so glad to see that Themba Mbuli’s Dark Cell is included in the theatre programme, although it is essentially a dance piece. I was introduced to choreographer Mbuli with the same production at the National Arts Festival 2014, which was a solo forming part of the 20/20Visions dance showcase also featuring works from Mamela Nyamaza; Chuma Sopotela and Tebogo Munyai.

Mbuli’s Dark Cell interrogates the mind as man’s worst prison. Working with imagery of ex political prisoners of Robben Island, it uses the concept of a prison cell as a metaphor for mental imprisonment. A real powerful performance. It’s on at the Market Theatre from September 4 – 7.

Still with dance, I want to see Lonely Together, a collaboration by Gregory Maqoma with choreographer, Roberto Olivan from Spain running at the Market Theatre on September 3 and 4 as part of Dance Umbrella (which forms part of Arts Alive).

Themba Mbuli in Dark Cell. Photo by Val Adamson

Themba Mbuli in Dark Cell. Photo by Val Adamson

From the theatre bill, I’m looking forward to international shows, From Jail to Yale by American Charles S Dutton. It’s his autobiographical one man show about his time in jail where he discovered theatre and went on to study drama at the prestigious Yale University.It’s on at the Joburg Theatre from September 3 – 6.

There’s also 9 Parts of Desire by Heather Raffo, forming part of the Shared History Festival within Arts Alive. The one woman play details the lives of nine Iraqi women in the decades between the two gulf wars and examines how war shaped them. The play is directed by Bollywood star, Lillette Dubey featuring her daughter, Ira Dubey. 9 Parts of Desire is at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square in Sandton from September 4 – 6.

Locally I’m looking forward to seeing Phillip Dikotla in Skierlik. Dikotla has come a long way since his appearance in Sekwatlapa which won a Naledi Award for Best Community Theatre in 2010. He is now cementing his position as a young artist to watch. He received the Arts and Culture Trust (ACT) 2012 Impact Award for theatre and the 2014 Fleur du Cap, Best Performance for his award winning play Skierlik, –  awarded Best production at the 2013 Zabalaza Festival. Skierlik the production is derived from the horrific events that occurred in the North West informal settlement called, Skierlik, just outside Ventersdorp. 17 year old Johan Nel shot and killed four people including a four month old infant and injuring eight others in a manic shooting spree in January 2008. Skierlik is on at the Market Theatre from September 5 – 7.

Lebo Mashile to perform at Arts Alive's Speak The Mind Poetry Sessions on September 5.

Lebo Mashile to perform at Arts Alive’s Speak The Mind Poetry Sessions on September 5.


What I’m really really excited about is the poetry programme with the 9th edition of the Speak The Mind Poetry Sessions. The press release below gives all the info:


Johannesburg Arts Alive 2014 


Speak the Mind Poetry Sessions


The 9th edition of the Speak the Mind Poetry Sessions takes from this year’s national theme of 20 years of democracy with a potent line up of all-star artists.


As Johannesburg Arts Alive International Festival’s main spoken word programme, it has nurtured a platform where artistic and intellectual ideas are shared delightfully through music and poetry, with performers from the continent and the diaspora.


2014 sees big names and important voices return to the Speak the Mind stage as newer performers get initiated for a one night only event on Friday, 5th September. Breaking away from tradition, the event takes place this year at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein.


The line-up celebrates the 22 years of the Arts Alive festival with previous show headliners. The selection process took into consideration artists that would best echo what the 20 years of South African democracy mean and articulate that on stage.


The result is a mixed bill literary giants, revolutionary wordsmiths and contemporary musicians with performers from as far as the US, Jamaica, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Swaziland.


Back again and headlining is Jamaican Rastafarian dub poet, Mutabaruka who has a favourable local following. The ‘Dis Poem’ lyricist known for his frank and provocative social and political commentary; is not afraid to get intimate or didactic with his audience which makes him special to watch.


Literary fanatics can look forward to the inclusion of Dr Mongane Wally Serote whose presence comes with great authority and wisdom.  A poet and writer, Dr Serote was part of the generation of black South African writers called the Soweto Writers in the 1970s and his early work contributed to the foundations of the Black Consciousness movement. His debut poetry collection, Yakhal’inkomo (1972) won the Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize in 1973 and he’s the 1993 recipient of the prestigious NOMA Award for Publishing in Africa.


Lebo Mashile and Tumi Molekane represent a generation of significant post- apartheid voices and both came up as part of the collective called PERM in creative spaces like the Jungle Connection in Doornfotein in the early 2000s.


Both global in their own right, Mashile and Molekane are powerful writers and leaders in their craft.  Mashile went on to co-find the female poetry collective, Feel-A-Sista. She has published two poetry anthologies, In a Ribbon of Rhythm (2005) and Flying Above the Sky (2008). She won the NOMA Award for Publishing in Africa in 2006. Molekane has become synonymous with Tumi and the Volume, who revolutionised the idea of a hip hop band with a mindful and organic aesthetic. He is on a league of his own as a leading international poet/emcee from Africa.


They will be joined by younger and exciting poets such as Gratitude Fisher and Mandi “Poefficient” Vundla.


Completing the South Africa bill is the Cape Town experimental band, Soul Housing Project founded by Bokani Dyer and Sakhile Moleshe. The five piece outfit recently played to great reception at the renowned Cape Town International Jazz Festival 2014. Playing around with jazz, hip hop, house and drum & bass influences, they have created a global sound that also resonates locally. The band will release their full length debut album soon.


Swazi female lyricist and vocalist Jazz P teams up with Zimbabwean jazz artist and multi- instrumentalist, Josh Meck to deliver an afro fusion of rap and afrojazz. As one of Nigeria’s leading spoken word artists, Efe Paul-Azino is a writer who through his work aims to raise youth awareness on socio-economic and political issues. He is credited for being a voice of a generation that takes poetry out of the shadows of academia and using it as an entertaining, transformative tool.


From Brooklyn, New York, Queen GodIs (Takeasha Henderson) blends classic hip hop, spoken word, soul music and theatre into her performance. She has featured in HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and her debut album, Power U showcases her penchant for storytelling. Queen GodIs returns to South Africa for the second time.


Filling in change over gaps and closing off the night’s performances will be local DJ Kenzhero whose wide musical savour and sensibility allows him to deliver an entertaining set with soulful depth.


  • The Speak the Mind Poetry Spoken Word Sessions takes place at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein (The Mandela) and doors open at 19h00 sharp.
  • Tickets available from Computicket


My Mail and Guardian Post-Grahamstown Article

This article appeared in the Mail & Guardian ( on 17 July 2014

The harrowing pic below is by Val Adamson of Adura Onashile in her heart wrenching and important play, HeLA, my stand out production from #NAF2014.

Adura Onashile in her one woman production, HeLa at NAF 2014. Photo Credit: Val Adamson

Adura Onashile in her one woman production, HeLa at NAF 2014. Photo Credit: Val Adamson


One of the long-standing triumphs of the National Arts Festival (NAF) is that it is the pre-eminent window through which we can view what is happening in the country’s cultural, social and political spheres.

This year history, heritage, legacies, innovation and new voices were celebrated during the festival, which ended this weekend past. Some works exceeded expectations, others … not so much.

Still, the line-up speaks to the quality and depth of the works the festival is known to curate. And Jo’burg audiences can look forward to getting a small taste of what they missed at this year’s festival.

Paul Grootboom has brought us riveting work, artistically and intellectually. But his new play Protest disappointed, unfortunately,  with a seemingly unready performance.

By experimenting with music he was attempting to serve something different to his audiences. The play is described as “a drama with music”, so it is not a musical, as such, but the music is used to articulate an idea or elevate the action with Tshepo Mngoma as musical director.

Tweaking and fixing
“I wanted to tell a didactic story as some of my ideas had been misinterpreted in previous work,” he said. “I also wanted to create something different that is the same – creating community theatre that is palatable.”

Plagued by technical faults and some actors stumbling through their lines, it was obvious not enough time had been spent on the production.

The story, as the title suggests, focuses on service delivery protests within voiceless communities. Because Grootboom never stops working on a production, continually tweaking and fixing during a run, there’s hope that Gauteng audiences will see a better version than what was put on in Grahamstown. Protest is on at the State Theatre from July 18 until August 10.

What’s cooking?
Gauteng audiences can also look forward to the Princess Zinzi Mhlongo-directed Cooking with Elisa, with a show-stealing performance by Patricia Boyer. The Argentinian play by Lucia Laragione is the first of the Proyecto 34°S Theatre in Translation programme, translated from the original Cocinando con Elisa, with an all South African cast.

It’s a gory and delectable piece of theatre where a butcher’s knife is handled in an operatic style. The story looks at culinary bullying through the power struggle between a domineering cook and a naïve young country girl in a kitchen specialising in French delicacies.

It runs at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square at the Nelson Mandela Square from July 22 to August 2 as part of the Argentinian Cultural Week.

The theme that stood out at this year’s festival was that of medical ethics and exploitation of the body, where theatre meets science, evident in plays such as the University of Oklahoma’s Miss Evers’ Boys (Silver Ovation Award Winner for Theatre) by David Feldshuh and Scottish actress, Adura Onashile’s one woman play, HeLa.

Other productions
The latter is based on the true life story of Henrietta Lacks and her HeLa cell line. Diagnosed with cancer, a cell sample was taken without her permission and used as the raw material for some of the most important scientific discoveries of the past 100 years. The book that inspired the play, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, is currently being adapted into film by Oprah Winfrey.

Locally this subject matter has been tackled through the infamous story of Saartjie Baartman, who was part of a human freak show of 19th century Europe under the name Hottentot Venus.

When she died her body was dissected and displayed in glass jars at the Museum of Man in Paris. Nelisiwe Xaba and Napo Masheane have previously dealt with the Baartman text.

It now resurfaces with a unique collaboration of Standard Bank Young Artists in the must-see production, Cargo: Precious.

Conceptualised and directed by Sylvaine Strike (2006 winner for theatre); choreographed by PJ Sabbagha (2005 winner for dance); scored by Concord Nkabinde (2006 winner for Jazz) and performed by Fana Tshabalala (2013 winner for dance) with Daniel Buckland and Nosiphiwe Samente, it’s on at the Market Theatre on September 6 and 7 as part of Dance Umbrella running from August 31 to September 7.

The 969 festival
From the Fringe programme, Whistle Stop, written by Ameera Patel, directed by Frances Slabolepszy and featuring Patel and real-life partner, Jacques de Silva, came up tops winning a Silver Ovation Award for Theatre. Patel was also part of a trio that won the Pansa New Writers Award, introduced this year to stimulate new writing in the Fringe.

Her play, a quirky blend of drama and physical theatre, looks at “hooking up” with a fresh, funny and poetic script.

The UCT theatre and performance graduate has come a long way since her days as part of the Rite 2 Speak Poetry collective. She is definitely one to watch.

Catch Whistle Stop and a number of other productions from NAF 2014 at the 969 Festival running at the Wits Theatre until July 27.

It was, in all, a great 11 days of the National Arts Festival. But as the second largest festival in the world, it could do with an inclusion of productions and artists from the continent, who were not visible this year. The 41st edition takes place from July 2 to July 12 in 2015.

Grahamstown Goodies: Undone

Four Days in and 14 shows after, I finally stole some time to write about a show I loved at the National Arts Festival 2014.

Grahamstown is a marathon. You go in and out of shows that by the end of the night you’re dead. But it is such a joy.

And joy is to be shared.

If language could break dance and movement could weep, then they would have a suitable conductor in Wessel Pretorius. He is bewitching, sensual and creatively unhinged in the play, Undone, which he wrote.

This Artscape  production is directed by  Hennie van Greunen.

Undone was originally written in Afrikaans as Ont and circulated the Afrikaans arts fests around the country with a number of awards and praise for Pretorius.

It was later translated into English and traveled to Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it was also well received.  It is still delivered with a dash of Afrikaans for the nuances.

The story is about a boy and his dysfunctional family and so playwright and actor, Pretorius takes on a number of roles.

He does this with a clever reference to Greek classics so this could be seen as a modern Greek tragedy. Comedy meets poetry where drama and physical theatre interlink in this punchy, subversive and emotive piece.

The style of delivery boasts a technical discipline and a classical treatment, perhaps reflective of the Artscape quality. Language is constantly bent out of shape to get to its emotive core.  Amazing stuff.

This was my introduction to Wessel Pretorius and Undone is simply brilliant.

The show runs at the National Arts Festival 2014 until July 12.

Wessel Pretorius in a scene from the play, Undone, directed by Hennie van Greunen and written by Wessel Pretorius, at the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, Thursday 3 July 2014. Pretorius takes on multiple characters as the production explores the story of a boy and his dysfunctional family. (Photo: Cuepix/Louisa Feiter)

Wessel Pretorius in a scene from the play, Undone, directed by Hennie van Greunen and written by Wessel Pretorius, at the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, Thursday 3 July 2014. Pretorius takes on multiple characters as the production explores the story of a boy and his dysfunctional family. (Photo: Cuepix/Louisa Feiter)

The National Arts Festival 2014 is almost here

The National Arts Festival held annually in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, celebrates 40 years of excellent existence in 2014. This being the second largest festival in the world, it’s a big deal. There are lots of artistic treats to look forward to on the 11 days of amazing – happening from July 3 – 13.

The fest will commemorate its 4 decade milestone with a theme that traces heritage and legacies. One of its legacies is the Standard Bank Young Artist Award which has awarded artistic excellence to the country’s emerging talents over the last 30 years. This has included the flair of Sibongile Khumalo; Willaim Kentridge; Dada Masilo and Paul Mpumelelo Grootboom to name a few.

This year’s winners of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award are: Greg Homann (Theatre); Njabulo Madlala (Music); Nicola Elliot (Dance); Kyle Shepard (Jazz); Hassan and Husain Essop (visual art); Donna Kukama (Performance Art) and Jahmil XT Qubeka (Film).

Here’s a taste of what you can expect:

CARGO: PRECIOUS is a unique collaboration between four Standard Bank Young Artists. Directed by Sylvaine Strike (theatre 2006) and choreographed by PJ Sabbagha (dance 2005), the piece is an imagined account of the ocean crossing undertaken by Saartjie Baartman and features Fana Tshabalala (dance 2013) with music by Concord Nkabinde (jazz 2006). Referring to the themes of ‘homecoming’ and African legacies Strike recalls,” After two centuries Saartjie Baartman’s remains were returned to her country of birth.  The horrific stories of scientific experiments remain basically unanswered but what is undoubted, is that she was stared at, stripped, painted, worshipped and ridiculed.”

Nosiphiwe Samente and Fana Tshabalala. Credit: Suzy Bernstein

Nosiphiwe Samente and Fana Tshabalala. Credit: Suzy Bernstein