Illa Thompson
Mercury Column 109
August 2017
Working mostly with professional creatives (men and women who create work for a living) it is always affirming to be among people for whom the thrill and passion of making art, rather than the hope of financial rewards, is what drives them.
Not that the professional practioners aren’t driven by passion. I think in this day-and-age our chosen business is not for the feint-hearted, when having to find funding for projects, navigating the inevitable bureaucracy, being mindful of what is and isn’t now socially acceptable and justifying our work to an increasingly critical and diminishing audience, is an enormous ongoing challenge. Ours is a hard world.
So when I find people making work for the sheer joy of wanting to do it, often against common sense, and considerable odds, it is gloriously affirming.
This month in Durban there is no shortage of passion on our stages.
A few weeks ago I met Nqubeko “Cue” Ngema and Nosipho Mkhize, two enthusiastic young dancers who needed some publicity support for a project they are working on – a variety-concert type event, to showcase independent, emerging and non-mainstream poetry, music, dance, drama, visual art, painting and design entitled Salute African Goddess to honour Women’s Month, which is being presented on Saturday 12 August from 3pm at the Alliance Française de Durban.
I asked how they are funded. They explained that after trying to secure funding and not succeeding they opted to fund the event themselves. Nosipho is a keen baker, so every evening after dance-class she has been making cakes, which Cue and the creative team have been literally walking the city streets to sell. The profits from this endeavour is funding the project. One can only applaud their tenacity, resolve and commitment, and also thank the Alliance for providing their venue and infrastructure to support them.
High-energy, visionary choreographer David Gouldie has chosen for his next project, to create a dance piece to honour the aged. Together with dancers from the Playhouse Dance Residency and Flatfoot Dance Company, he has been working together with residents at TAFTA (The Association For The Aged). The dancers have been working closely with the old folk, literally dancing with them and interviewing them to hear their individual personal stories which they have used as their inspiration for the piece. I would imagine that the connections made between the dancers and the TAFTA ladies have been life-changing for all concerned.
Handbag – Don’t clutch me too tightly… is in the Playhouse Drama as part of the Women’s Arts Festival. The performance on Friday August 11 at 7pm is a TAFTA fundraiser initiated by David and deserves special support.
Also in rehearsal currently is Shall We Dance – the annual dance showcase which features many of the city’s dance schools and studios. I am always in awe of this project – literally hundreds of aspirant social dancers who spend their recreational hours dancing. I watch teenagers doing their homework in-between acts; parents juggling home commitments with their rehearsal schedule; and busy corporates setting aside their laptops to get on stage and dance for the sheer love of it. I am particularly respectful of the group-leaders who hold it all together, and the backstage team – in particular the makers of all the glorious costumes. I suspect many of the participants will not have a home-cooked meal or a good night’s sleep until closing night!
Shall We Dance will be at the Playhouse from September 8 – 17.
Of course no reflection on “arts” and “passion” would be complete without acknowledging one of my favourite humans of all time – the astonishing, generous, brilliant Pieter-Dirk Uys who was recently in town. In between performing he took time to engage with various community, art and social projects, share stories with script writing students, update his archives housed in UKZN and visit both the Denis Hurley Centre and Jewish Museums. He is quick to share and ready to listen. Durban is lucky to host him. He is already planning his next visit when he brings Tannie Evita with a new show, Evita Bezuidenhout & the Kaktus of Separate Development which comes to the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from 31 October – 19 November this year.
I salute too the memory of one of the most gracious and evolved women I had the privilege of knowing, Latha Ramkisson, who recently lost her battle with cancer. An engineering professional whose spare time was spent with the proactive Art of Living foundation, she was a tireless community campaigner. I am grateful to have worked with her on many music and wellness events over the years. I will miss her terribly.
To all the men and women who are called to make art for our pleasure and enjoyment, I salute and thank you. The city is a better place because of your passion, care and commitment.

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