Dualities anchor 'Onda,' a dance film dangling between analog and digital mediums

From the beginning, things were more than they seemed. A white wave crashed down in roiling high definition over three theater-high screens. Wrought with the speed and energy of a waterfall, this wave also maintained the luxurious quality of a rich pool of milk. Thus began “ONDA - into the unknown.”

Presented digitally by the Hannahmadance for the 23rd annual JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience, this research project and performance playground created by choreographer Hannah Ma (Germany, Luxembourg) and musician/visual artist Sebastian M. Purfürst (Germany) marked the latest collaboration in a four year, interdisciplinary investigation of the meeting point between analog and digital. 

The virtual performance, which Ma described as akin to a nature documentary, cracked open the cocoon of personhood and made way for the performers to temporarily hang up their human skin in favor of something alternately animal and atmospheric. Rolling their spines in all directions, eyes open and heads bobbing at the mercy of an invisible current, the environment inhabited the dancers. Bodies ricocheted off one another into individual eddies. Repeated movement patterns emerged and resolved in their own time. A soloist surfaced from a heap of bodies to prowl, paw, pounce and hide. 

Duets felt disconcertingly intimate and notably gendered in this space where bodies seemed more primed for unapologetic colliding. A woman launched herself into the waiting arms of the necklace-laden man. Another woman climbed upon a man’s torso, opening her body and shaking as the pair spun to the ground. Moving catlike, she considered her partner’s supine body before pouring her own into a prone X over his raised legs. 

Sometimes imperceptibly, and occasionally with great fanfare, the performers molted their outermost layers of clothing, nondescript black sweatsuits, revealing silks, sequins and glitter. One dancer performed the entire work with a multilayered string of pearls around his neck. For a moment, he gasped and stumbled, pulling at the strands as they tried to strangle him. In the end, he quieted the necklace victoriously between his teeth. 

This experiment of black and white, of minimal and maximal, of patterns and textures suited for a dinner party amidst the chaos of rolling bodies, successfully grappled with the ever-evident pull of anthropomorphism in our digitally centered world.


The JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience continues with daily shows online through Sept. 5. For more information and to access the performances, visit jomba.ukzn.ac.za.

2021 Critical Dance Writing Fellow Jennifer Passios is an artist-athlete, wordsmith, and dance educator powered by improvisation. Over the past 7 years, Jen has performed throughout the United States enlivening spaces from stages to sand dunes. She made her on screen debut in 2019 as a principal dancer in the feature length film “Little Women” (Columbia Pictures) and recently completed a 10 month long DIY dance road trip alongside CoGRAVITY counterpart Jacob Regan. When she isn’t dancing, Jen spends much of her time with an espresso in one hand, and a pen in the other. Her musings can be found at thINKingDANCE, on her personal blog FIELD NOTES, in the Instagram ether via her crowdsourced poetry project #AllRequestTuesday, and under the eyes of grant evaluators across 6 time zones. She enjoys using her voice in service of artistic advocacy with a particular focus on leadership pathways for women and girls.