Mamela Nyamza pushes boundaries with her new dance masterpiece, ‘Hatched Ensemble’

Choreographer, art activist Mamela named Jomba! 2023 Legacy Artist

Hatched Ensemble. Picture: Mark Wessels

Mamela Nyamza’s “Hatched Ensemble” is a groundbreaking and innovative project that challenges the traditional norms of ballet dance.

Inspired by her original solo dance project in 2007, “Hatched Ensemble,” is a unique and thought-provoking performance that speaks to the complexity of identity, belonging, gender, tradition and artistic expression, within the context of contemporary dance.

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.

“Hatched Ensemble is not a typical ballet because I’m not following the norm,” said Nyamza.

“It is more like a classical installation on stage, a classical performance of art on stage.

“And already that is breaking the boundaries because people don’t go to a ballet show to see an installation of bare-chested dancers, wooden pegs, romantic tutu skirts and hanging pointy shoes.

“In ‘Hatched Ensemble’, I have dancers speak on stage and sing African music that is infused with classical tunes and African instruments with the recorded classical ballets, and having them all in one ballet has always been a dream for me.”

By breaking these barriers, Nyamza is not only expanding the representation within the ballet world but also pushing the boundaries of what ballet can be.

“The work is protesting in a subtle way, on stage. The work is speaking about about us as a country in South Africa that we have been indoctrinated. And now, we need to come out of that.”

With a career spanning over two decades, Nyamza continues to advocate for inclusivity. Her work is an inspiring example of how the arts can be a platform for social change, empowerment, and the celebration of diversity.

Hatched Ensemble. Picture: Mark Wessels

Nyamza says she wants to see women on stage who represent the diverse population of South Africa. This includes girls who may have faced discrimination or body shaming in the past.

By featuring dancers of all shapes and sizes and rejecting the practice of weighing or pressuring them to lose weight, the production is challenging harmful norms within the dance industry. 

Nyamza is sending a powerful message that talent and artistic expression should not be limited by physical appearance nor does it mean conforming to traditional standards of beauty.

“We’re not going conform to what we have been taught, but we’re going to take what we have been taught to the next level, develop it, stretch it and make it our own. We’re turning the world ballet upside down.”

Hatched Ensemble. Picture: Mark Wessels

Nyamza also highlights the enduring challenges faced by black dancers in predominantly white institutions. 

“I’ve realised that the dancers that I’m working with, have similar experiences as me. We were always those black kids in ballet classes, schools in universities full of white kids, we’ve been through a lot.

“Why can’t we celebrate us now? And celebrate our African dance. At the end of the performance, audiences will see the dancers take off their shoes and dancing barefoot.

“’Hatched Ensemble’ is a labour of love. It’s about my life, and my identity and heritage.

“With this piece, I feel like I have achieved something that as a black woman, from South Africa, will be celebrated across the world, for many decades to come.”


Mamala Nyamza. Picture: Val Adamson

Nyamza was named the Jomba! Legacy Artist for 2023 in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the world of dance and her lasting impact on the South African arts scene.

“As the Legacy Artist, I had the honour of opening the Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience, which was held in Durban from August 29 to September 10.

“And being the first woman from South Africa to be recognised as a Legacy Artist, is a great honour.

“I’m following the footsteps of Gregory Maqoma, Vincent Mantsoe, Jay Pather and Germaine Acogny, the first woman in Africa to be recognised as a Legacy Artist for Jomba!”

“My work has proven that I deserve to be a legacy artist.”

In March, the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts announced a historic new partnership with The Market Theatre.

As part of the collaboration, selected local and international dance companies will feature in a week-long celebration of dance, which kicks off on Wednesday, September 13, and runs until Sunday, September 17.

“We are incredibly excited to pay our first visit to Johannesburg and The Market Theatre and hope this is the start of a long-term partnership that sees incredible dance being shared across our two cities and provinces,” said Jomba! curator, Dr Lliane Loots.

“I can think of no better way to serve artists than to make these partnerships a reality. This Jomba! @The Market Theatre package showcases a broad range of contemporary styles and themes, reflecting local and global motifs that speak to our festival theme of “(in)tangible heritages.”

For the full programme more information on Jomba!@ The Market, visit The Market theatre website.

Tickets are available at Webtickets from R80.


Article Credit: IOL

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