Born and raised in Dube, Soweto, Nelisiwe Xaba began her vibrant professional dance career of more than 20 years in the early 90's when she received a scholarship to study dance at the Johannesburg Dance Foundation. In 1996 she was awarded a scholarship to study dance at the prestigious Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in London where she studied various forms ballet and contemporary dance techniques under the artistic direction of Ross McKim. Returning to South Africa in 1997, Xaba joined the Pact Dance Company and later launched a freelance dance career in which she worked with various esteemed choreographers, including Robyn Orlin. She is also a distinguished teacher having taught in Soweto, Johannesburg and Bamako, Mali.
Xaba's solo career has entailed working in various multi-media projects and collaborating with visual artists, fashion designers, theater and television directors, poets and musicians. Xaba's seminal works Plasticization and They Look At Me & That's All They Think have toured various parts of the world for the several years. The latter piece, inspired by the Hottentot Venus (Sarah Bartmann) saw Xaba collaborate with fashion designer Carlo Gibson of Strangelove.
In 2008, Xaba collaborated with Haitian dancer and choreographer Kettly Noel to create a duet titled Correspondances – a satirical look into the politics of women to women relationships, which toured various continents in South and North America, Europe and Africa.
In 2009 Xaba premiered her piece Black!...White?, produced by the Centre de Developpment Choregraphique ( CDC), which toured throughout France. In the same year Xaba produced The Venus, a combination of her solo pieces, the earlier work They Look At Me with Sakhozi says non to the Venus (directed by Toni Morkel), originally commissioned by the Musee du Quai Branly. Xaba's work is informed largely by her feminist stance on racial politics which challenges stereotypes of the black female body and mainstream cultural notions of gender.
In 2011 Xaba became one of artists represented by the Goodman Gallery South Africa which represents a pool of leading contemporary artists on the African continent. In her recent work Uncle and Angels Xaba collaborated with film-maker Mocke J van Veuren to produce an interactive dance and video performance piece which questions notion of chastity, virginity testing, purity, and tradition, while at the same time casting a wry glance at the power relations encoded within corporeal interaction through performance and projection.
Since its premiere at the 2012 Dance Umbrella Uncles & Angels has toured Germany, France, and Austria and is being restaged for Dance Umbrella in September 2013 (whose poster and programme uses an image of Xaba in this work) . Xaba is currently working on a new collaborative piece Scars & Cigarettes ( to accompany Uncle & Angels 2013) in which she continues to probe the socialization of men and women into performing specific gender roles in society. This time the focus is on the different rites of passage, or rituals such as male circumcision, performed by men.
Also in 2013 Xaba was selected to present The Venus in Venice at the South African Pavilion at the 55th la Biennale di Venenzia (Venice Biennale) presented from June 1 to 24 November 24.
She was awarded several prizes at the Rencontres chorégraphiques internationales de l’Afrique et de l’Océan Indien (African and Indian Ocean International choreographic encounters) - Danse l'Afrique Danse (organised in Paris, Carthage and Bamako by the Institut français).
1995 Soweto Dance Theatre Company and Soweto Dance Theatre Youth
Updated: February 2014