This extract is taken from the recording of a rehearsal, presented at the Centre national de la danse (CND, National Dance Centre) as part of the Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula's carte blanche programme in June 2005.
Created in collaboration with the actress and writer Ntando Cele, “Silhouette” stages the battle of the sexes by exploring the motives behind the depictions of sexuality and identity. The work deals with violence towards women, one of South African society's major issues, in a subtle way. The piece, which centres on two characters and the playing out of their mutual attraction, also uses a video artist who captures a different viewpoint from that of the audience.
The traditional performance format used in this piece makes it unusual in the work of Mlu Zondi. His other works are designed for open artistic spaces such as galleries or museums, and are considered as “performances”, with all that that implies in terms of the spectator's freedom of movement but also in terms of different context.
After being honoured at the MTN New Contemporaries Award in 2006 in Johannesburg, “Silhouette” was performed in South Africa in its final version (Grahamstown National Arts Festival, FNB Vita Dance Umbrella Johannesburg, Jomba Contemporary Dance Festival in Durban…), where it met with both public and critical success.
“I say my vagina is a curse for it makes me feel less powerful to fight for my belongings” (1)
Ntando writes a great deal, about everything, but sometimes the cry of the body is louder… Mlu dances a lot, more than anything, but sometimes the body doesn't seem strong enough… However, anything can be used to say what you want to say, in art, just like anywhere else...
And it's not about too many texts, movements and images as so many mirrors, correspondences, resonances to question daily life and the private sphere, society and the engagement of its members. The instant video close-ups point out what we could too easily ignore but which affects our lives nevertheless…
Here, it's about the relationship between men and women, sexuality, the individual's place in a hastily “reconciled” society, lacking core values and with an uncertain future. Here, it's about a country and a home, collective memory and particular paths. Why do so many children grow up without a father, if men are superior to women? “I grew up with the certainty that my father ruled the household and it's true, he did a lot. But while growing up, I saw all that my grandmother had done… In my family, you find these strong women, who give you courage just by being themselves. My heroines are the women who sell sweets in the street to be able to put food on the table and to send their children to school. My generation of women knows how much it owes these women, who are the heart of this country. It is they who will bring change…”
Political? Beyond doubt… Because for Mlu, “being black in South Africa today is a standpoint in itself. The simple fact of being there, standing on the stage, is a political act. In the same way, our economic, social and personal lives are always connected with politics and it is difficult to escape it…even if we shouldn't succumb to it.”
The spectator is close; we play with intimacy, confrontation, developing relationships... “In Europe, as in South Africa, stereotypes are plentiful. The only way for us to escape them is in this close, sometimes familiar, dialogue with a spectator: we tell them about us, about our life over there, elsewhere, and perhaps they will relate it to their own life here.” Who knows, sometimes it’s enough to change an attitude…”.
Source: Virginie Dupray, Centre national de la danse programme for “Silhouette”, 22-24 June, 2005
(1) “I say my vagina is a curse for it makes me feel less powerful to fight for my belongings." Ntando Cele
“Mlu Zondi's “Silhouette” premiered in Paris last year. It too is a theatrical piece, with text by Ntando Cele (of Tin Bicket Drum). He presents two grotesque, almost burlesque caricatures of stereotyped male and female identity. The male is lascivious, insatiable, and abusive. The female is spontaneous, organic – she farts and spits – but these are male prerogatives, and for violating them, she is inescapably typecast as slatternly and whorish.
Zondi says: “I like to find new ways of saying things... I did train in dance but I was in drama school, so there's a lot of acting”.
During the performance, video artist Momelezi Ntshiba roams about the stage documenting what is happening with closed-circuit projections. Zondi is questioning the methodology of knowledge acquired through observation alone, asking the audience to question their own interpretation of the performance, arrived at from "a spectator point of view with no engagement".
Source: B. Meersman, “Fresh at the National Arts Festival”, website Real Review / South Africa, 6 June 2006
“In the performance that won the MTN award, “Silhouette” (2006), Zondi works with poet/actress Ntando Cele to play out a new relationship that starts as a tentative courtship. But when the mutual attraction moves to a point where the two embrace, the shy character Zondi plays is overtaken by predatory urges, and ripping off his red tuxedo he forces himself violently onto his traumatized partner, licking her face like a hungry wolf as she screams her distress. A third player in the piece moves around them at a distance, like a discreet referee, wielding a video camera. Close-ups of the action, recorded by this character, are then projected onto a screen behind the performers. “Silhouette”, with its theme of brutish sexual coercion, is a shocking yet thought-provoking statement on how rampant domestic abuse is.
Source: S. Williamson, South African Art Now, Harper Design, 2009.
Updating: July 2013
Born in 1975 in Clermont, a Durban township, Mlungisi Zondi was raised by his maternal aunt after the death of his parents, and grew up the only child among adults. He has since said that this loneliness instilled in him an essential precept for his current work: “I have to be inside myself and be comfortable there” . In the 1980s, as an enthusiastic Michael Jackson fan, he imitated the artist for his friends, causing a sensation and discovering his dance abilities. Through the pantsula shows in which he played an active part in the 1990s, he discovered an effective way of expressing himself and decided to study further. He had to spend three years working at a service station before being accepted at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) in 1998 to study theatre, performance and dance. The tenacity and endurance he showed during those years would also be seen in his later work: “This tenacity and endurance is still evident in his work, in a context where the level of experimentation and risk in performance culture is rare”. During his studies and through his contact with Jay Pather, director of the Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre and professor at the DUT, Mlu Zondi focussed on performance.
Graduating four years later, he tried out “commercial and corporate theatre”, an activity consisting of producing shows for private sponsors as part of “a new business culture, the concept and qualities of a new product or (…) even socio-educational themes like the prevention of the AIDS, hygiene…” . Determined to work independently, he invented performative, experimental, often hybrid formats, which dealt with defining identity, supported by the organisation Sololique Projects, which he founded while still a student. The way in which he presents his artistic research reveals the deeply intimate and personal dimension he gives it: “My work is a direct result of the frustrations in trying to find creative ways through which to express myself” . It also provides ample opportunities to face his own demons: “My works are my own confrontation with issues that haunt me: identity, relationships and childhood memories. Suppressed emotions emerge during creations and performances that become therapeutic” .
His talent, combined with his determination and sense of opportunity, quickly propelled him onto the international stage. Beginning in 2001 with a residency in Durban at the Floating Outfit Project run by Boyzie Cekwana, the following year he was given a six week residency at the Théâtre Sévelin 36 (Lausanne) organised by Pro Helvetia, after which he presented a solo entitled “Sololique : Rafiki” at the Festival international de danse de Lausanne (Lausanne International Dance Festival). He was then awarded a residency at the FNB Dance Umbrella Johannesburg (2003), the Seoul Performing Arts Company in South Korea (2007), the Bains: Connective Art Laboratory and at the KVS Theater in Brussels, the Rodriguez-Amat Foundation of Contemporary Arts in Barcelona (2008), as well as Kunst: Raum, the German branch of Jozi Art: Lab on the island of Sylt in the North Sea (2009).
In 2004, his performance “Identikit” was presented as part of the Young Artists Project exhibition by the Kwazuku Natal Society of Arts (KZNSA) Gallery. Heralded as a metaphor of the black condition in a world dominated by whites, this performance in two parts also speaks about the difficulty of being different. The first part is held inside the KZNSA Gallery and stages Mlu Zondi on the giant chess-board of a traditional South African game, the mlabalaba; in the second part, Mlu Zondi parades through the city until he reaches the water at Durban's North Beach, wearing a costume made of coloured bin bags and giant sunglasses. Zondi's work, like this piece, seeks to challenge taboos and to take the art of performance out of its usual performance contexts.
In 2006, his piece “Silhouette”, created in collaboration with Ntando Cele, was the recipient of a prestigious MTN New Contemporaries Award. It remains a different experience to the rest of his work because it is the unique staging performance. More at ease in the visual arts (museum, galleries…), he prefers spectators to enjoy their freedom of movement when watching his performances: “I like people to come in and watch as long as they like. Maybe they walk away after five minutes, maybe they stay for an hour”. These performance formats call upon the exceptional capacity of concentration which he cultivates: “When on stage, Mlu Zondi is very focused. No distraction, just concentration, continuous movement, sometimes repetitive. Furthermore, I don’t get tired as long as there is music (…)” After performing one of his pieces that also deal with issues of race and politics as well as identity, Mlu Zondi feels concentrated, open minded, clean. “Performing is my own way of spiritual meditation” .
His video works have been shown as part of the Guth Garfa Documentary Festival in Ireland (“Mirage”) and at the KZNSA Gallery in Durban (“Despotica”) in 2009. Recipient of many prizes and honours (Jomba! in 2003, KZNSA in 2004, National Arts Council of South Africa, NAF Main Festival Grant, Jomba, FNB Dance Umbrella and MTN New Contemporaries Award in 2006, National Art Council of South Africa and Pro Helvetia SA in 2007, Africalia in 2008), he is the winner of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for dance in 2009, thanks to which he was able to show “Cinema” at the National Arts Festival of Grahamstown in 2010, an ambitious multimedia experimental creation for four dancers and video projections.
An exceptional performer in critics' eyes, Zondi has also proved his worth in the field of artistic and cultural administration: from 2005 to 2006 he successfully took on the role of regional coordinator for the live arts network for the KwaZulu-Natal region (PANSA KZN) and worked as a consultant for the arts consultancy Cultural Radius.
 Mlu Zondi, http://www.jozi-artlab.co.za/en/klip_town_art_project/south_african_artists-sylt_mlu_zondi.php, 2009.
 O. Hespel, "Robyn Orlin, fantaisiste rebelle", 2009, p. 26.
 M. Zondi quoted in the KZNA Gallery programme for « Despotica », 21 april-10 may 2009, http://www.kznsagallery.co.za/exhibitions/despotica.htm.
 http://www.artlink.co.za/news_article.htm?contentID=23366, 11 May 2009.
 Jozi art:lab Website, 2009 : http://www.jozi-artlab.co.za/en/klip_town_art_project/south_african_artists-sylt_mlu_zondi.php
Nondzube, Nomfundo. "Mlu Zondi takes audence by surprise", http://www.grocotts.co.za, 2 juillet 2010
Buys, Anthea. "Filmic feet", Mail and Guardian, 25 juin 2010
"Award winner for dance straddles spaces", http://www.artlink.co.za, 11 mai 2009
Williamson, Sue. "South African Art Now", Harper Design, octobre 2009, p. 142.
Updated: February 2014
Centre national de la danse, Réalisation
Since 2001, the National Center for Dance (CND) has been making recordings of its shows and educational programming and has created resources from these filmed performances (interviews, danced conferences, meetings with artists, demonstrations, major lessons, symposia specialized, thematic arrangements, etc.).
Choreography : Mlu ZONDI
Interpretation : Siyanda DUMA
Text : Ntando CELE
Duration : 30 minutes
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