By BRUCE DENNILL
Showcasing the dancers from the National School of the Arts, Dance Spectrum “Epiphany” plays at the Lesedi Theatre from 19 – 21 August. The work includes neo-classical ballet, contemporary, Afro-Fusion and Spanish and sees the versatility of the NSA dancers well displayed. internationally acclaimed France-based Vincent Sekwati Koko Mantsoe has created a work called Liling for the learners.
Liling refers in a literal sense to the interwoven nature of the lining of fabric. Is the work “only” conceptual, in that you want to express how different threads interacting are stronger or more useful together than they are alone, or is there a greater culture significance you want to place in the spotlight (for example, how much richer a community can be when it comprises people of different types, with different strengths).
Ideally, Liling tries to address the interwoven treads, creating a more ritualistic journey as a community, including the power, the simplicity, the unevenness, and the balanced or unbalanced process. It looks at the contradiction of different energy that has been created by interwoven threads. And yes, there is the strength that has been created by different cultural backgrounds.
As a teacher, have you created this work with the development of certain specific skills and movements in mind for the learners – ie people younger than and not as experienced as yourself? And what is your preference in providing a challenge for these up-and-coming talents – do you want to push them hard to expand their capacity or help them to refine what they are able to do at their current level of learning?
As a teacher, choreographer and a performer, I believe that my work has a specific element of the cultural and spiritual. The philosophy of how I teach comes from a traditional background, and by implementing other forms of movements, it allows the learners to broaden their technical skill and spiritual senses. My teaching aims to push the boundaries, so that the learner’s capacity can grow to the maximum, to refine, as well as to challenge the idea of how to interpret the movement. This, of course, won’t come easy, as the physical and mental expectations are high, but it is open to any dancer who is open to this new form.
As a South African working a lot in France and incorporating Western, African and Asian elements into your style, what are your feelings on needing to tell culture- or community-centred stories through dance (where that is required – e.g. by funders or sponsors wanting to focus on specific themes)?
I believe that cultural preservation in the 21st Century is vital in how we tell our own stories in our own way. For as long as I can remember, even living in France and Europe now, there has been a different perception in how ‘African’ dance should look or not look, and funding somehow came into play where we artists compromised our artistic values and ideas. I took a different route where I believed and believe that my traditional and cultural background, with the influence of other movement styles, is best served in a way that allows the integrity of the work to be more appreciated globally.
You’re a fantastic ambassador for South African dance around the world. For learners watching your career with interest and wanting to work in different contexts, what would you suggest they focus and work especially hard on – outside of the physical conditioning and talent required up front?
The beauty of art is that an artist can take a path, but the path should be the correct one, to respect the form or art, to respect another artistic path – even if the path may not be what you prefer – to let your ego be your enemy, and to be passionate. Don’t be distracted. If needed, recharge, find what drives your path, and don’t force yourself Enjoy your art and, of course, work, work, work!