[PROFILE] Choreographer, dancer and teacher Themba Mbuli’s love affair with the performing arts started about 15 years ago, when he joined Zola Musical Drama, a youth club in Soweto, where he performed drama, music, poetry and dance.

And it was dance that drew him to Moving into Dance Mophatong (MIDM) a few years later, where he received formal training. After graduating with a certificate in performing arts in 2007, Mbuli joined Inzalo Dance and Theatre Company as a trainee performer under Moeketsi Koena.

A year later, he was accepted back at MIDM as a dancer, where he also served as a teacher and choreographer. While there, he choreographed Dark City, which was inspired by the history of Johannesburg’s Constitutional Hill, once the Old Fort Prison and the notorious Number Four prison, where many political prisoners were held. While exploring the hardships of detention, the work also celebrates the liberation that was achieved in 1994. It won the Pick of the Fringe award when it was performed at the FNB Dance Umbrella Festival in 2010.

Mbuli joined Talipot Theatre Company from Reunion Island in 2011 as a principal dancer in the touring production !AIA – From Cave to Sky. Choreographed by Philippe Pelen Baldini, it examines San heritage and the lost !Xam language and traditions. Mbuli has also performed in a number of productions by renowned choreographers and directors such as Gregory Maqoma, Sylvia Glasser, Thabo Rapoo, Jerry Mofokeng, Jaco Bouwer, and Kent Ekberg, the Swedish theatre director and Mbuli’s mentor.

His 2012 solo creation Dark Cell, a response to Dark City, draws its inspiration from images of political prisoners on Robben Island to explore issues around mental imprisonment – what Mbuli calls ‘the worst prison that any man can ever be in’. The work has since been performed at a number of festivals in South Africa, including the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 2014, and has toured Sweden, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Uganda, the Netherlands and the UK.

Mbuli, who is now based in Cape Town, is an associate project manager and a co-founder – together with Fana Tshabalala and Thulani Chauke – of Broken Borders Arts Project. He is also a co-founder and the choreographer and managing director of the Unmute Dance Company, which was formed in 2014 to help pioneer integrated dance in South Africa, using the arts to inspire the inclusion of people with disabilities in society.

Other recent works include Trapped, Robot Citizens, choreographed for The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative, and Ashed, which was performed together with Trapped as part of the Artscape Women/Humanity Arts Festival last year.

On his winning of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Dance, Mbuli says: ‘Out of all the young South African Artists who are already doing innovative and groundbreaking works, I’m really humbled to be part of the few that are recognised with such a significant award. I feel very honoured and grateful that my work as a young artist is recognised in a pool of all other great works by my fellow artists in the same field as me.’

NOTES TO EDITORS

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL

The National Arts Festival, now in its 42nd year, has grown to be one of the leading arts festivals in Southern Africa. Its objectives are to deliver excellence; encourage innovation and development in the arts by providing a platform for both established and emerging South African artists; create opportunities for collaboration with international artists; and build new audiences.

ABOUT THE STANDARD BANK YOUNG ARTIST AWARDS

The National Arts Festival established the Young Artist Awards in 1981 to acknowledge emerging young South African artists who demonstrate an outstanding artistic talent. These prestigious awards are presented annually to deserving artists in different disciplines – dance, jazz, music, theatre, visual art, performance art and film – affording them national exposure and acclaim. Standard Bank took over the sponsorship of the awards in 1984 and has presented Young Artist Awards in all the major arts disciplines over their 31-year sponsorship, as well as posthumous and special recognition awards. The winners feature on the Main Programme of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and receive financial support for their Festival participation, as well as a cash prize.

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