Dancing to a different tune

After a successful stint at the Little Theatre in Cape Town, Second Time Broken by the Remix Dance Company may be on its way to Johannesburg for the Dance Umbrella festival in Newtown.

What sets this production apart from any other dance show on the programme is its integration of people with different body histories, types and abilities to create dance performance. Remix was established in South Africa in 2001, its innovative positioning was acknowledged in 2002 when Remix won the prestigious Arts and Culture Trust Award for Cultural Development Project of the Year. Says Trustee and artistic director Nicola Visser: “The important thing about the Remix Dance Project is that we work on professional and mainstream dance and theatre platforms. The artistic pursuits of Remix are based on artistic integrity and performance of the highest professional standard and not on charity or sympathy.

“The long-term vision of Remix is to see the development and support of a community of integrated dance practioners in South Africa and alongside this, the emergence of an integrated audience in accessible theatre complexes.” The four performers of the piece are Nicola Visser, trustee and artistic director, Mpotseng Shupung; Andile Vellum, who is deaf and Malcolm Black, a wheelchair user. Black is especially proud of this production. “It is very beautiful and will stand Remix in good stead.”

Black, who has a genetic condition Fredericks Ataxia, which affects the nervous system (your co-ordination and balance) so that eventually such a person has to use a chair, began dancing in 2000. “I did something I never use to do. I went to the theatre and watched dance. On the way out I was approached and asked if I would like to participate in a dance workshop. I was studying psychology through Unisa at the time but was really searching for something. I didn’t expect to find it in dance though, especially not as a career, but I went to the workshop and have been dancing ever since.”

Malcolm says what has amazed him the most is just how much he enjoys dancing. “Through dance and creativity dancers can find a half way point between different kinds of physicality.” Today it is still something he enjoys but now there is an added element: hard work. “Since we became a fulltime company last year, we have been performing, teaching open classes, exploring new ways of technique training and doing educational work such as teacher training as well as going out to schools for once-off showings, discussions and workshops or more intensive week-long residencies where a performance is put together for the learners or by the learners.”

For the last three weeks Malcolm and the group have also been working with Adam Benjamin, an internationally acclaimed choreographer out from the UK on Second Time Broken. “The creation process takes three weeks of intensive work and then two more weeks of preparing and performing in the studio.” That is the part Malcolm loves the best. “Performing on a production is both taxing and exhilarating. You build up stamina and after preparing for so long, you feel part of a bigger thing that satisfies you.”

Malcolm explains that the dancing the group does is not like ballroom dancing. “Every dance is new and choreographed with the dancers. It is always integrated.” This has a great effect on the public and in this way has an impact on social implications. “When people see my wheelchair on stage, they are confronted with it in a space that they cannot turn away from. Often this makes them uncomfortable, but more often than not, to their surprise they enjoy the performance.”

Visser adds to this, saying, “Remix is able to shift and challenge conventional perceptions by producing outstanding performances. We place Remix squarely in the professional domain. It pioneers innovative dance productions for the public, it’s entertaining and we tell stories. It’s not about disability, it’s about art.” For Malcolm, being able to perform brings him great joy. “I am happy to maybe make a difference, but moving is also something that makes me happy and I will continue to practice it for as long as I am allowed too.”

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