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2003 - Director : Centre national de la danse, Réalisation

Choreographer(s) : Cekwana, Boyzie (South Africa)

Dropped by Centre national de la danse

en fr


2003 - Director : Centre national de la danse, Réalisation

Choreographer(s) : Cekwana, Boyzie (South Africa)

Dropped by Centre national de la danse

en fr

Ja, nee

“Ja, nee” – literally “yes, no” in Afrikaans –is a piece for eight dancers presented for the first time in France in an intermediate version at the studio of the Centre national de la danse in February 2003. The final version of the piece was performed at the Africalia festival in Brussels before going on a European tour [1].

A hybrid of dance, theatre and installation, “Ja, nee” is a piece spoken and sung in a mixture of Zulu and Xhosa, which resists an easy interpretation on initial viewing. Confronting “subjects as significant as child abuse, rape or AIDS, while seeking to explore the social fabric which connects all these situations” [2], it is described as follows by the choreographer: “In my collaboration with the actors, I tried to put forward and to unearth the dichotomy of an ancient culture which is colliding with another, with heavy Western, modern and urban influences. Through prayers (an ancient art), we go back to the origin of male domination in our cultures. Such domination is intrinsic to development and produces a pandemic threat which threatens to decimate generations of Africans. Young people in particular. I also chose the symbolic use of the gumboots, which are a strong symbol of exploited and cheap mass labour. I wanted to illustrate a powerful source of depravity, of ill-treatment in urban South Africa. The diamond, coal and gold mines where the men are exploited are also a prevalent source of the HIV virus. […] I also had to make a choice in the use of language. It was either get the message across to a non-African language audience and risk losing the strength and power of the language of my country, or capture the contribution and dynamics of the indigenous language and risk losing the audience. I chose the latter solution.” [3]

On the stage, a white cloth is spread out on the garden ground, along with a pair of the famous gumboots – symbol “of a male world, hard and hard-working, the antithesis of today's society, where the men are experiencing a loss of identity” [4]according to the choreographer. In the courtyard, two performers hang black and white photographs by the photographer Val Adamson [5] on a clothes line, in which we can see some of the actors now on stage, stripped, wearing only weapons on their belt (AK47, axes and machetes) and carrying babies in their arms. Placed beside this installation, which the spectators are invited to come to look at the end of the show, a television set emits a bluish halo and plays a video about AIDS which seems to leave its single viewer in a state of shock. 

The seven male performers appear gradually when the darkness which accompanies the spotlight focused on a dancer is dispelled and replaced by a more diffuse light. Armed with clubs and sticks, they gesticulate and launch, in Zulu, into the songs of ceremonial prayers praising the prowess of the males and the virtues of their ancestors, a ritual also called Izibongo, an exclusively male privilege. The only female performer – Desiré Davids – moves among these dances (stick fighting and umzansi dance), in a kind of parallel dimension, sometimes like a tightrope walker, sometimes performing energetic solos, rejected by a ritual from which she is excluded: “No woman has ever been allowed to sing ancestral prayers, their status in society always being subordinate to that of men. Moreover, they never have access to prayers because once they are married; they lose their names to take that of their husband. Male dominance in African society has established itself successfully in this way; these prayers are part of this context.” [6]

Tackling AIDS, violence and male dominance in South African society head on, in this piece B. Cekwana is trying to bear witness to a feeling rather than to stigmatise it. Particularly praised by the critics after its performance in France in 2003, interest in “Ja, nee” was established and the piece would be performed again in 2004, at the Antipodes Festival in Brest and in 2005 at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris along with “Rona”, another piece by Boyzie Ntsikelelo Cekwana.

[1] Utrecht, Ljubljana, Limoges, Geneva, Brest, Weimar, Berlin.
 [2] Performance notes, Thérèse Barbanel - Les Artscéniques, 2003.
 [3] B. Cekwana, Centre national de la danse programme for “Ja, nee”, January 2003.
 [4] R. Boisseau, “Boyzie, Cekwana, les pas du passé sud-africain”, Le Monde, January 2004.
 [5] Val Adamson is a photographer of Kenyan origin who moved to South Africa in 1984. She notably completed a commission for the Playhouse Dance Company in 2001, for the South African Women Arts Festival, entitled “Curve”, in which she celebrates the subject of women of all ages, in all their diversity.
 [6] Centre culturel Jean Moulin programme for “Ja, nee”, Limoges, 23 September – 5 October 2003.

Updating: November 2013

Cekwana, Boyzie

Born in the Soweto township in 1970, Boyzie Cekwana began by practising yoga and afro-jazz before discovering the Graham technique and the lyric style of Alvine Ailey. He trained with choreographer Carly Dibakwane in the Meadowlands district of Soweto, before receiving a three year scholarship which enabled him to train at the Johannesburg Dance Foundation: ballet, Graham… Here he encountered the country's most important dance companies, in particular that of Adèle Blank: “With this woman, one could be passably technical, but if she chose to collaborate with you, she also decided this according to your defects and of what she could bring to you to transform them. I believed it". In 1993, he became resident choreographer for the Playhouse Dance Company, a public theatre which closed down in 1997, then located in Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal region.

The year 1994 was a significant one for Boyzie Cekwana: he won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award and the FNB Young Choreographers Grant – prestigious awards given by two of the country's most prolific banks – as well as the first prize at the Third International Competition in Helsinki for his piece “Brother, Brother” the following year. Called a “Wonderkind” (child prodigy) of South-African dance, he toured with various international companies, including the Scottish Dance Theatre and the Washington Ballet, for which he created the piece “Savannah” in 1996 in co-production with the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, for the African Odyssee Festival.

In 1997, Boyzie Cekwana founded his own company in Durban, with the performer Désiré Davids: the Floating Outfit Project. The name of the company asserts its flexibility: “We needed to break with the constrained formats of traditional dance and South-African ballet companies. We imagined a floating entity, without fixed structure or permanent dancers, which allows everyone to continue to work with others across the world, while allowing us to create our own works. It also met to an economic need. For a small independent company, it was no longer possible to survive in South Africa and more realistic to continue on our separate paths to then be able to reinvest the profits in our joint project.” (Press pack for the Montpellier Danse festival, 2000). In addition to the creation of dance shows, the company also aims to promote dance in Africa through workshops and projects. Boyzie Cekwana has also taken part in international conferences like “Inroads Africa” in New York in 1996, “Confluences 2” in Cape Town in 1999 and Afrique en création (“Creating Africa”) in Lille in 2000.

The first pieces he created for his company are “… like posing pictures with a smile” and “Rona”, which means “Us” in the Sotho language. This last piece, for two dancers and a musician, won him the first prize of the 3erencontres chorégraphiques de l’Afrique et de l’Océan Indien (3rd Africa and Indian Ocean choreographic encounters) at Antananarivo in 1999. A lengthy European tour followed: Cologne, Utrecht, Brussels, London, Vienna, and in France, Strasbourg and Marne-La-Vallée...

For the Dance Umbrella Festival Johannesburg he created “Shift” in 2000, a trio which questions women's place in the new South Africa: “We don't talk enough about the dynamics of fear and power which influence and create the politics of race, gender, violence, human rights, love, prejudice… In South Africa, these problems are surrounded by too much silence. And this silence is a problem in itself. I'm no longer trying to explore tranquillity, I explode it. Today, South Africa has a new 'psyche' in response to isolated or organised crime, which it combines with the stereotypical demonization of the African 'male' who is considered as a constant threat to society. The show challenges these 'shifts' and their shortcomings in the contemporary South-African context.” To be more precise: “the work explores problems which range from rape to crime and war while also touching on racism and religion. It does not try to tell a linear or concrete story. It moves laterally through images, movement, music, spoken and written text, which I hope will have a subliminal eye-opening effect.”           (

In 2003, he presented “Ja, nee”, initially in an experimental form, at the Centre national de la danse, then at the Africalia festival in Brussels in its final version before going on a European tour (Utrecht, Ljubljana, Limoges, Geneva, Brest, Weimar and Berlin). In 2005, the piece was performed alongside “Rona” at the Théâtre de la Ville (Paris).  In the same year, Boyzie Cekwana was invited to the Rencontres internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis (Seine-Saint-Denis International Encounters) where he presented “Cut!”, created at the Dance Umbrella Festival in Johannesburg, and also created a proposal inspired by the fable “The stag who sees himself in the water”, as part of the Fables à La Fontaine project led by the producer Annie Sellem, in which the stag is replaced by a gazelle.

In 2009, B. Cekwana began work on the “Influx Controls” trilogy. The title refers to a discriminatory law established in 1923 by the South African government aiming at preventing black people from travelling and living freely in the cities. At the heart of this trilogy is the subject of human identity in the context of apartheid and global colonialism. The first part, “I wanna be wanna be” is a solo inspired by a journey in Democratic Republic of Congo, presented at the Kaaitheater in Brussels. It finds its starting point in the outrage felt in the face of dehumanisation – both in the past and the present – of Africa, its people and its heritage, and transforms itself into a play on identities and their ambiguity. The second part “On the 12th night of never, I will not be held black” was created in May 2010. It explores “Africa's identity crisis in the post-colonial era and shares the stage with Pinkie Mtshali, an opera singer whose career was hampered by her "unconventional" physique. From the individual politics of the body to the global body of politics, the show questions the way, through the eyes of others, identity is constructed by stereotypes. How can Africa destroy its "third world" image and reinvent itself? Committed to developing an autonomous artistic creation on the black continent, Boyzie Cekwana enters the battle with an immense talent." (Kunsten Festival des Arts, “In the case of fire, run for the elevator”, the last part of the trilogy, is a trio that personifies Love, Power and the Privileges and their involvement with the inequality of food: “This is a story of food and of its complex, unequal and invisible poetry, the choreographer explains. It is told by three “universal” characters that represent love, power and privilege. It is the history of food as the reality of difference, the common ground for all that is common and unequal. In this piece, we present a silent musical, with rhythmic interventions to the score heard only by the speakers. It is our poor attempt to portray the anxiety of an angry stomach, growling in the face of the deafening din of culinary decorum.” (Institut français,

In 2011, he presented “Crosswords puzzles”, a piece for 8 dancers from the CCN-Ballet de Lorraine, whose structure is inspired by the crosswords printed in newspaper: “We also want to reflect on a personal selection of danced choreographic phrases and reproduce them in relation to the individual. The idea will be developed with a group of four dancers and perhaps concentrated on ideas of exploring the friction or the tension between the true and fictitious identities. These identities can be manipulated to create and recreate "authentic" and/or invented individual versions.”

In his latest creation, “The Inkomati (Dis)cord”, which he presented in France at the Montpellier Danse Festival 2013, he worked with the Mozambican choreographer Panaibra G. Canda, with whom he had already collaborated for the development of the South-South Think Tank, aimed at promoting artists and disseminating their work in the southern hemisphere. It is a piece inspired by the non-aggression pact signed in 1984 by Mozambique under Samora Machel and South Africa under Pieter Botha, and which bore the name of the river which separates the two warring countries.



His neo-classical duet Brother, Brother using music by Vivaldi (which he first performed with Quinton Ribbonaar at the 1994 FNB Dance Umbrella in Johannesburg) won first prize at the Third International Ballet and Choreography Competition in Helsinki in 1995.


Cekwana won the Standard Bank Young Artist award for dance premiering the commissioned Kude Nomfula.

Joint first place winner (Choreography) at the third Helsinki ITI International Ballet Competition

In September 1995,  at the invitation of The Washington Ballet, he performed Brother, Brother, with  Washington Ballet's John Goding, at Kennedy Centre and then again at the Joyce Theatre in New York City, in January 1996. In 1997 Cekwana was commissioned by this company to create Savannah as part of Kennedy Centre's African Odyssey programming.


Winner of the Best Male Dancer Award at the FNB Vita Dance Indaba in Cape Town South Africa.

More information

Latest update: september 2013

Centre national de la danse, Réalisation


Ja, nee

Choreography : Boyzie Cekwana

Interpretation : Desiré Davids, Wonderboy Gumede, Mxolisi Ngubane, Mbeki Mabhida, Xolani Helelma, Sizwe Sithole, Buyani Shangase, Mnatha Vika

Additionnal music : Mandoza, The Statler Brothers, Jean-Sébastien Bach

Lights : Hans - Olof Tani

Ja, nee

M. B., « Voici que ma tête hurle... », Cassandre, May-June 2003.

M. C. Vernay, « Boyzie Cekwana, le révolté de Soweto », Libération, 6 January 2005.

Katja Werner, « Blood relations », Dance Europe, July 2004, n° 76.

Isabelle Rüf, « Ja,nee, un témoignage véhement », Journal de l'Adc, September-December 2003, n° 31.

Kossi Efoui, « Chorégraphies de la violence », Jeune Afrique, 16-22 February 2003.

Marsaud, Olivia. « La drame du sida en chorégraphie »., 24 January 2003.

Willemien Brummer, Die Burger, April 2002

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