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Uncles and Angels

CN D - Centre national de la danse 2012 - Director : Van Veuren, Mocke J.

Choreographer(s) : Xaba, Nelisiwe (South Africa)

Present in collection(s): Centre national de la danse

Integral video available at CND de Pantin

en fr

Uncles and Angels

CN D - Centre national de la danse 2012 - Director : Van Veuren, Mocke J.

Choreographer(s) : Xaba, Nelisiwe (South Africa)

Present in collection(s): Centre national de la danse

Integral video available at CND de Pantin

en fr

Uncles and Angels

“In South African tradition, the Reed Dance celebrates young women's honour and the preservation of their virginity before marriage. After a decline in the middle of the last century, the appearance of AIDS led to a revival of this custom in the 1980s. Today, this ceremony has even become a popular tourist attraction, particularly in South Africa and Swaziland.

Inspired by this tradition, “Uncles & Angels” questions the validity of an interdict which, using the AIDS pandemic as a pretext, places heavy pressure on African girls. An annual event which brings together more than 30,000 Zulu girls in their revealing costumes, Nelisiwe Xaba sees this demonstration primarily as a means of exacerbating sexual violence – every year, dancers are attacked or raped. Aided by the video artist Mocke J van Veuren, in this work she shows how a cultural heritage can be manipulated to the point that its significance is completely subverted. Playing with the juxtaposition of different time frames, thanks to the video effects, Nelisiwe Xaba reinterprets the movements of the Reed Dance, mixed with simulations of the virginity tests, which are envisaged as the dreams or nightmares of a young girl.”

Source: extract from the press kit of the Festival d'Automne, Paris, 2013

Programme extract 

“There is a camera which films the dancer live. Afterwards, thanks to the Isadora software, we can multiply the characters. The technology enables us to film live while projecting something else on the screen. We were also interested by the possibilities of multiplying and of repeating, which enabled us to explore the dynamics of the groups taking part in a ritual, whether that means being part of the group or remaining outside it. As many of these rituals are carried out in groups, the multiplication and the repetition become a major element not only of the performance, but also of the learning experience.”

Source: extract from the press kit of the Festival d'Automne, Paris, 2013

Press quotes

The Sunday Independent February 5 2012

"Xaba's choreography for Uncles and Angels could be described as sampling. She presented the audience with recognisable dances, all of which relied on her multiplied projected self on the screen behind: a Venda Domba Snake Dance, a drum majorette march as well as an allusion to old Hollywood musicals with their ascending straircases. She used the screen as a backstage form which she would emerge and disappear, a screen on which her shadow was visible, as well as the surface on to which she was digitally multiplied in projected form " Murray Kruger

“I also question the way in which certain men use the confidence that the women and the children have in them to force them into activities aimed at satisfying their sexual pleasure. Moreover it is often close relations, like the “uncles”, for example, who abuse the women.” [Nelisiwe Xaba] recalls in passing the lawsuit for rape in 2005 of the current president, Jacob Zuma, where one of his victims regarded him as an “uncle”. In her solo, she brings the angelic women and the predatory uncles face to face.” 

Rosita Boisseau, "La "nation arc-en-ciel" se danse en Blancs et Noirs" (“The “rainbow nation" dances in Whites and Blacks”), Le Monde, 10 September 2013 (article originally in French translated in English) . 

“Nelisiwe Xaba's rage is contained but intact. She points out that South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world. “And, very often, no one cares about the victim, the woman. In another solo, “Scars and Cigarettes”, I was interested in the male rite of passage. I questioned the way in which the boys are brought up. I refer to how things were in the past. I don't remember a time when we were liberal.” The choreographer still speaks about this resistance to change which she feels around her. And guesses that this return to tradition is a return to religion. “Our History has not all been written yet. There are great doubts. My role as an artist is not so much to provide solutions as to say: can't we just talk about it?”

Philippe Noisette, Les Inrockuptibles, in the supplement devoted to the Festival d'Automne, Paris, 11 September 2013 (text originally in French translated in English). 

More information
Elisabeth Schäfer, "Taking-Untaking", Scores, n° 4, mars 2014, p. 57-61 (you can download it on this website : Tanzquartier - Vienne)

Latest update : September 2013

Xaba, Nelisiwe

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).

Source: http://theartchive.co.za/

Teaching:

1995 Soweto Dance Theatre Company and Soweto Dance Theatre Youth

More Information:

https://www.academia.edu/2898707/Speaking_with_Nelisiwe_Xaba
Updated: February 2014

Van Veuren, Mocke J.

Uncles and Angels

Choreography : Nelisiwe Xaba

Choreography assistance : Thami Manekehla

Interpretation : Nelisiwe Xaba

Artistic consultancy / Dramaturgy : Toni Morkel, Carlo Gibson

Additionnal music : Barry White (The Right Night), Amatshitshi Amhlophe (Isisho sabadala), Arthur (Hlokoloza)

Video conception : Mocke J van Veuren

Costumes : Strangelove et Nelisiwe Xaba

Sound : Mocke J van Veuren

Duration : 35 minutes

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