Participants in South Africa's dance and theatre sector gathered at Stellenbosch University (SU) over the weekend to discuss ways to reinvigorate a performing arts community that has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges and social issues.
The Take-a-STAND Dialogues initiative, based on the model of literary festivals, took place from 19–21 February at 44 Ryneveld – both the name and address of a newly renovated venue in Stellenbosch.
The event was presented by SU Woordfees and STAND (Sustaining Theatre and Dance) Foundation, and sponsored by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Nasionale Afrikaanse Teater-inisiatief (NATi).
Various panel discussions on a wide variety of themes and featuring diverse voices from the dance and theatre community were the order of the weekend. Panellists included Ismail Mohamed (Director Centre for Creative Arts UKZN), SU Woordfees festival director Saartjie Botha and Cornelia Faasen (CEO: NATi).
Other highlights included the launch of the Siseko H. Kumalo edited publication, Decolonisation as Democratisation: Global Insights into the South African Experience.
In his welcoming address, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers said: “It's hard to imagine that just over a year ago Stellenbosch University was preparing for Woordfees 2020. The coronavirus was still a faint whisper that was happening on the other side of the world. Woordfees 2020 was the last major South African arts festival to conclude its programme before COVID-19 shut everything down.
“Now it's a year later and it's clear that this pandemic has taken its toll. Theatres are closing doors, festivals have been and are still being cancelled and postponed, and many people have lost their only source of income.
“But artists are also resilient, and the arts world has come up with innovative ways to keep supporting each other. The events this weekend being just one such example.
“What this time has taught us is that the arts are not dispensable. It's entrenched in who we are as humans. The writer James Baldwin said that 'The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been concealed by answers'. That seems like something we need more than ever today. For artists to keep asking questions. To keep being creative and to keep inspiring."
Dancer and choreographer Gregory Maqoma enthralled the audience with his keynote address entitled, “Theatre for whom? Dance for what? Towards a rationale for theatre and dance in our contemporary world".
Said Maqoma: “My calling is in dance, something I got to learn over the years was unconventional in many ways. Firstly as a Black South African brought up in the township of Soweto, secondly growing up with Christian values in a middle class family who looked at education as a major stepping stone to the promised land, the Nirvana, and thirdly as a practitioner every time I introduce myself as a dancer, I mostly get a follow on question – 'so what else do you do?'.
“So why do I do this? Why this edge to wake up every day, sometimes in the middle of the night to dance?
“When I reflect and try to make meaning in my attempt to find reason to dance, to find words to describe the movement aesthetic my body exudes, the only word I can come up with is architecture: the landscape that continues to evolve and change, closely related to the earth and affected by its deteriorating nature, a collection of identities acknowledging the many centuries of social and political heritage. Every performance creates new transitional, entry and exit points. Every performance becomes a memory and when the lights go off and the curtain falls, a new history is written."