Man vs. self or man vs. nature: JOMBA! South African 'Crossings' embarks on two distinct journeys of discovery

The collaborative efforts between Georgina Thomson and Vrystaat Kunste Vees of the New Dance Festival and JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience culminated in the premieres of two dance films as part of their South African “Crossings” series. Since its inception in 2004, this residency program brings choreographers, composers and dancers together with a shared desire to create thought-provoking work through a diverse lens. This year’s chosen choreographers were Sylvester Thamsanqa Majela and Sizakele Mdi.

In Majela’s work, “NEVERLAND,” he notes that dissociative identity disorder stems from severe childhood trauma. In the brain’s effort to cope, it creates its own world. Drawing inspiration from JM Barrie’s book, “Finding Neverland” and “Leaving Neverland,” the Michael Jackson documentary, the work is set amongst a series of dilapidated buildings. Lone performer Pule Paul Peter rolls his torso along the white, stuccoed walls of each abandoned room all while clinging to a bottle of Castle brand beer as Chesney Palmer’s haunting soundscapes and piano score are interrupted by the cacophonous sound of broken tiles. Perhaps the minimalist movement offered in this piece was intended to refocus the gaze on the human psyche. However, the text layered over the music, seemed incongruent to Majela’s expressed concept at the beginning.

“Dust to Dust” by Mdi, examines man’s relationship to nature. In the first frame, dancer Simphiwe Mbekiselwa’s hand emerges from celadon-colored leaves almost blending perfectly with the bark of the branch. As his outstretched fingers grasp, wrap, claw and slither through the tree, I am reminded of the African proverb, “The mouse says: I dig a hole without a hoe; the snake says: I climb a tree without arms.” Whether it’s the dust bowls erupting from the dancer’s spinning feet, shadows reflecting on the bark of the tree or the tender moment of the man nestling into its trunk, these depictions create an intimacy with the viewer that would be lost on a proscenium stage. Dumelang Bondo provides the deftly crafted sound score featuring drumming, clapping, wind and vocals.

Creating dance through a cinematic lens requires a skill set most choreographers (prior to the pandemic) did not possess. As the dance world shifts into this new normal so must our ability to experiment, collaborate and grow. These two artists have a promising start.


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

2021 Critical Dance Writing Fellow Catherine Meredith’s extensive career as a performing artist, dance educator and choreographer has garnered her critical acclaim both nationally and internationally. She performed in works by Alvin Ailey, George Balanchine, Talley Beatty, Paul Taylor, David Rousseve, Shapiro & Smith, David Parsons, Hernando Cortez, Beth Corning, Heinz Poll, Martha Graham, Ulysses Dove and Dianne McIntyre. Her choreographic work has been commissioned by numerous companies, colleges and universities and presented at The Kennedy Center (D.C.), AVAYAVA Festival (India), American Dance Guild (NYC), Dance St. Louis, The Ashley Bouder Project, Playhouse Square, and New Dance Partners Project in Kansas for Störling Dance Theater. For ten years, Ms. Meredith was the resident choreographer for the Dancing Wheels Company, the nation’s first physically integrated professional dance company. She holds an MFA from Hollins University and is an Assistant Professor of Dance at Kent State University.