‘Maritzburg dancer, Bonwa Mbontsi, is a man on a movement mission

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Bonwa Mbontsi.

PIETERMARITZBURG dancer, Bonwa Mbontsi, has a vision: to grow dancing in every form in the city and the province as a whole, writes ESTELLE SINKINS.

“I don’t think it’s right that so many talented people from our city have to go to Jo’burg or Cape Town to make it,” he says.

The 28-year-old certainly practises what he preaches. To encourage local talent he choreographs dance works for pupils at Maritzburg College, Epworth, St John’s, St Anne’s and Michaelhouse.

This year has seen Mbontsi work with Lyn Chemaly on the St Anne’s production, Penelope – A Dance Theatre Production, a work innspired by Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad. He also created dance sequences for the musical, Chess, staged at Michaelhouse earlier this month.

A strong believer in helping young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, Mbontsi has created the Lahlúmlenze dance initiative to help them to reach their potential.

The programme uses movement, dance and theatre to address issues around health and gender and to encourage participants to learn new life skills.

Among those who have benefited are the pupils at Slangspruit Primary School in Edendale, whose dance group, Super Troupers, delighted audiences at a festival at Kearsney College recently.

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The dancers from Slangspruit Primary School’s Super Troupers, who are trained by Bonwa Mbontsi, wowed the audience at a dance festival at Kearsney College recently. PHOTO: Jonathan Burton

Since appearing on the reality show, So You Think You Can Dance?, in 2010, Mbontsi has gone on to perform at a number of major dance platforms in South Africa including: Detours, the Baxter Dance Festival, Sex Actually and the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Last year, visitors to the Hilton Arts Festival would have seen him performing with Tegan Peacock in Bird/Fish, a multi-media work created in collaboration with ‘Maritzburg visual artist, Kristin Ng-Yang.

Mbontsi will be reuniting with Tegan for the Otherwise residency at the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience, in Durban from August 23 to September 3.

They will be joining three other local dancers, Steven Banzoulu, Sibonelo “China” Mchunu, and Kim McCusker-Bartlett, for the project led by Benin dancer and choreographer, Marcel Gbeffa.

Gbeffa plans to introduce the participants to dance techniques from his part of Africa and to encourage them to share their own knowledge, as well as their political and social views, with each other.

At the end of the residency they will perform at the KZNSA Gallery in Glenwood at 6 pm on Monday, August 28.

“Marcel is an amazing contemporary dancer,” says Mbontsi. “I’m not sure what he plans to do with us, but I am really looking forward to it. I just want to experience everything he has to offer and to listen to what he has to say.”

In addition to taking part in the residency, Mbontsi will be presenting a new work, Yakhal’ Imbokodo, a collaboration between himself, University of KwaZulu-Natal masters student, Frances Mennigke, and Hannah Wappenaar, from Holland, who works at the theology centre on UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus.

“Frances is an award-winning writer and Hannah is an incredible musician, who plays violin and strings beautifully,” says Mbtonsi, who describes the piece as a ‘meditation on the violence that so many women and children in this country face every day’.

He added: “My work is an interrogation into a man’s response to the fight against gender-based violence.

“The work has come from a very personal place. I can identify with the predicament women have because of the struggle which my own mother faced at the hands of a man.

“It hasn’t been easy to muster up the courage to talk about this. It’s a heavy topic, but I feel that I am at the right stage in my life to tackle it.”

To create the work he has drawn on the different backgrounds that he and Francis have and on Hannah’s involvement in various outreach projects, where she sees the results of abuse in different forms.

“It’s been a challenging experience,” Mbontsi admits, “and I have gotten to the point where I’ve thought, ‘Why am I doing this?’. But then you read a story in in the paper or watch something on the news or hear the stories of the young people I work with and you realise that so much more needs to be said on this subject.”

The 15-minute contemporary dance piece will be performed at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre in Durban at 7.30 pm on Tuesday, August 29 as part of the JOMBA! Fringe Festival.

Although he is primarily a contemporary dancer, Mbontsi has enjoyed trying his hand a ballet this year and delivered a scene-stealing performance as Mr Weasel in the KZN Midlands Youth Ballet’s production, The Ugly Duckling, at the Hilton College Theatre.

“The whole experience — working with Robin van Wyk and being trained by Brenda Hunter — was so positive,” he says. “It was wonderful to see all these different studios get together. I think the youth ballet has done wonders for dance in this part of the world… and I hope that I will be able to take part in the next one!”

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Away from the stage, Mbontsi enjoys giving Ballet Rip classes at Epworth, the Danz-It Studios and the Velocity Sports Lab in Hilton.

While the classes are based on ballet principles, you don’t need to have danced before to enjoy this fun new way of exercising.

“It ticks all the fitness boxes, including movement, cardio-vascular. It’s not about building bulky muscles, but about achieving an optimal physical form,” says Mbontsi.

  • To find out more about the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience go to http://www.cca.ukzn.ac.za and link to the JOMBA! page. You can also like the Facebook page: JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience and follow the event on Twitter @Jomba_dance.
  • For more information on Bonwa Mbontsi’s exercise classes phone 079 201 8010 or email bonwabise@gmail.com
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