Illa Thompson
Mercury Column 110
August 2017
The creative industries provide platforms for sharing, engaging and grappling with issues whether social, personal or political. The stories shed light on what takes place in our hearts and heads, individually and collectively. It is so exciting that in our creative spaces currently there are a multitude of events created for and by young people.
The generation gap could not be wider, thanks to the rapid pace of technology and evolution of devices. Between father and son, mother and daughter are gaping divides of different ways of consuming information, connecting with people and relating to the world.
Interestingly as we enter Heritage month and spring – a time of symbolic new birth and new beginnings, I am gladdened that much of our creative spaces currently are hosting events with a youth focus. I am watching the flurry of current shows and exhibitions with avid interest, watching the sharing of stories, dances, music and art across generational lines.
I watched DUT drama undergrads perform a world premiere last week, The Chronicles of Jack – about a naive matriculant leaving his nuclear family and childhood home to go to University and learning to navigate such difficult terrain as a new town, wily scam artists, protest action and new friends.
I have been at rehearsals of the 17th annual Young Performers Production – the revival of Footloose about the father-daughter conflict sparked by the conservative father banning music and dance in the small town, causing the town’s young people to rebel. It is special to see that Footloose is being performed by high school learners from well-resourced and under-resourced schools working together.
At rehearsals of the 25th annual Shall We Dance I have seen youngsters (younger than ten) sharing the stage with dancers old enough to be their parents, and in some cases, their grandparents: a multi generational, multi cultural cast finding commonality in the strict tempo steps of their chosen dance.
One of my favourite spots is the UKZN Jazz Centre – a week or so back, they had the UKZN Big Band in action – undergrads performing some phenomenally diverse numbers with evident passion and obvious enjoyment under the watchful eye of band leader Burton Naidoo, performing an unusual repertoire of jazz interpretations of House music. In a similar vein, the National Youth Concerto Festival sees nine youngsters perform with the KZN Philharmonic, showcasing their skill and reading of some orchestral classics – including some lesser known works as part of the Early Spring Symphony Season.
I am working closely with the organisers of the Mini World Youth Day – a gathering in Durban in December, of Catholic youth from Southern Africa. In preparation for the event, two young Durban performers, Justin Nanak and Thandeka Dube-Ndhlovu together with the team from Raise Your Voice, have composed an original praise-and-workshop ballad, The Mighty One, which was specially written for the event and has been adopted as the festival’s official theme song. They made an accompanying music video with a slew of young Durban creatives showcasing incredible maturing, faith, commitment and passion.
As a community we are gearing up to what is probably the biggest arts and culture event on the KZN calendar, the 25th annual Hilton Arts Festival. Embedded in the main festival is a programme for young audiences supported by Assetej – an international organisaiton operating as a networking platform for people working with or interested in theatre for young audiences. It is heart-warming that the festival organisers have given thought and budget to proactively engage with the youth.
Last weekend, within the fabulous programme at the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience was their youth fringe day showcasing dancers under the age of 16 featuring works of many of Durban’s dance development programmes .
And perhaps one of the most special moments of them all, was at the opening of the Park Contemporary Gallery – a newly-launched commercial gallery within the KZNSA Gallery aimed particularly, but not exclusively, to promote the work of emerging and exciting new KZN artists. Young Matthew Jolley (aged 10) with the encouragement and support of his Mum Sharlene, chose and purchased his very first work of art – a painting of an obviously speedy, state-of-the-art bright red jet plane which now hangs on his bedroom wall. At the gallery he was thrilled to meet the artist, Kevin Mbonambi – himself aged 15. I was tickled pink by the young art-maker and the even younger art-buyer in conversation together.
I look forward to the weeks ahead to be able to absorb, watch and listen to the stories, dance, art and music of our city’s young people to be reminded of what we have in common, and what we can learn from, the generation that follows.
• Shall We Dance: Playhouse Opera, 8 – 17 September
• Footloose: UKZN Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, 8 – 17 September
• JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience: UKZN, until 3 September
• Hilton Arts Festival: Hilton, 15 – 17 September.
• KZN Phil Early Spring Symphony Season: Durban City Hall, 14 September.
• Mini World Youth Day: DEC, 6 – 10 Dec 2017 (Video and song can be found on )