Dance that’s food for thoughts

Teresa Mojela and Sonia Radebe question thought in Lingering. Photo credit: John Hogg.

Teresa Mojela and Sonia Radebe question thought in Lingering. Photo credit: John Hogg.

“What happens when a thought constantly lingers?” This is the question that Sonia Radebe’s Lingering poses and processes. The work might be the product of intense internalisation, but Radebe ensures it can be shared with audiences. In fact, her process is rooted in translating thoughts into movements. This has been the case with Lingering, created in collaboration with Teresa Mojela, as part of a double bill. The work was created last year during the NAC-funded Connections, a project which focused on the development of South African professional contemporary dance practitioners.

Radebe left Moving Into Dance Mophatong (MIDM) in 2014 to pursue a freelance career as a dancer and choreographer and to continue with Song and Dance Works which was launched in 2012 with her co-artistic director husband.

Her illustrious performance career began in 2003 with MIDM after she graduated in 2002 with theory and practice in dance teaching. Although she’s often credited with being a lead and principal dancer for MIDM, she humbly says: “I never looked at myself as such for all the years that I [was] at MIDM. I was simply doing what I did and tried to do it well all the time.” She began choreographing in 2008 and in 2010 was an associate choreographer alongside MIDM founder, Sylvia Glasser, for Threads. She has since choreographed many solos and works for companies, most recently Ngizwise (together with Canadian, Jennifer Dallas) last year.

In creating Lingering, Radebe explains she and Mojela are “strong female dancers” and after bouncing ideas around “initially for the residency, we didn’t know what we wanted to do, but knew that we wanted to create a strong physical female performance… with a soft, gentle side in the movement and vocabulary”.

Radebe works from an internalised impetus rather than simply stringing together moves on the studio floor. Play is an important part of the process. “I’ve been asking myself what… I feel most comfortable with, or what it is that really just comes as a reflex in the way in which I create work. I strongly feel that most of the things, they really come from the inside, and I try to find a way to share it with the observers… without compromising the honest story.”

Her process emerges in the content of Lingering where thought is given the foreground as the driver of one’s actions. “We wanted to explore that idea, of what really happens when a thought constantly lingers in one’s mind (and) explore if we can depict this physically, and if we cannot, what is it that can be derived from trying to reach that goal.” Lingering uses “those ideas being woven together in the movement language when you have constant interruptions and… jerky, fast movement that progressively (interacts with) smoother and more gentle movements.”

Radebe pauses thoughtfully when asked about the many collaborations on which she’s worked. “There are processes that I’ve been involved in (which were) quite challenging. Because I am a person who really loves challenges, I see how that influences the processes of that particular work.” She says of the collaboration with Mojela: “Both of us are very opinionated, there is sometimes conflict, and that sometimes creates tension in the creation process, (but we) acknowledge that a collaboration is not a one- sided thing, it is 50 percent in terms of contribution, personally, artistically, in every way.” She concedes that compromise is necessary because the work is paramount and the creation process must always return to connecting to the audience.

Radebe avoids the fallibility of working self-indulgently by constantly including people in the creation process. For Lingering, she says: “It was helpful to have external eyes while we were working because sometimes we can be very self-absorbed in the creation process.We have people such as Nhlanhla Mahlangu and Shannon Winlock who is also one of the very well-respected dancers in South Africa.”

Of her particular creative processes, she resists categorisation. “I was trained in contemporary dance. I was also trained in Afrofusion, but in my work I find elements of both those now. I do not like putting labels onto the creation process.” She wonders why some try to label the style she works in, or question why as “an African person” she doesn’t perform traditional African dance, but Radebe remains confident in her choices.

“I think I’ve been blessed in a way that I’m able to create work that comes from the inside, but the work is not too self-indulgent. I’m able to allow the space to really invite the audience to be part of this journey, so it doesn’t become this thing about me as a mover because I might as well be dancing in my bedroom”, she laughs.

– Sarah Roberson

  • This article was first published in The Star Tonight on 16 Feb 2016, and in the Dance Umbrella Gazette #1.
  • Roberson participated in the Dance Writer’s Workshop funded by the Goethe-Institut.
  • Lingering was presented at the Soweto Theatre on 27/02 at 14.30 and 28/02 at 10.00, at the Dance Umbrella.

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