Contemporary dance

The evolution of a polished beast of a dance

Sunnyboy Motau. Photograph by Thabo Sebatlelo.

Sunnyboy Motau. Photograph by Thabo Sebatlelo.

Arguably one of Dance Umbrella’s more exciting collaborations is that between Moving Into Dance Mophatong’s Sunnyboy Motau (28) and independent Tel Aviv-based choreographer Rachel Erdos (36). They grin as they refer to their piece fight, flight, feathers, f***ers as a “beast”. They spoke to My View a week after they had started developing the work which enjoys its world premier in a mixed bill on March 3 and 4 at the Dance Factory.

Erdos was in South Africa in 2010, for Crossings, a choreographic initiative coaxed into life under the aegis of the French Institute and hosted in Johannesburg. “This work is the first ‘baby’ in South Africa built on the connections Crossings established,” said Erdos. “Sunnyboy – associated  with MIDM since 2008 – and I have been in dialogue for five years.

On paper, this year’s Dance Umbrella seems to thematically embrace masculinity: several works are choreographed by women on male dancers: but Motau and Erdos shake their heads: “This was not commissioned with a theme. After we met in 2010, we started exchanging ideas.

Rachel Erdos. Photograph courtesy

Rachel Erdos. Photograph courtesy

“We gravitated naturally towards issues relating to masculinity. In Europe and Israel, there are much less male dancers than there are female. Here it is the opposite. When Sunnyboy said ‘you can work with the company: there are five guys and two girls’ … it wasn’t an even number. So it became: ‘let’s explore the issues of identity relating to men only.’”

Born in the north of England, Erdos moved to Israel 13 years ago, armed with a degree in dance from Rohampton Institute and a masters in choreography from London’s Laban Centre. “I was brought to Israel by a whole range of forces, including upbringing” – with a Hungarian father and an English mother, she was aware of being the only Jewish child at her high school and was curious about living and working in Israel – “but the reasons I went and the reasons I stayed are completely different.

“The Israeli contemporary dance scene is pumping: Some of the best dancers in the world are coming out of there. And I have found loads of opportunities. I think Tel Aviv is an amazing city to live and choreograph in. It has a great vibe.”

She has a repertory of dancers and her diary is rich with opportunities to create work. “I am in the middle of making a piece at the moment for Kolben Dance, a Jerusalem-based company, under Amir Kolben who has been running his company for 25 years. It will be shown in different festivals through the summer. But I had to take a hiatus from the project when I knew I was coming to South Africa!”

Motau always knew he wanted to lead a creative life. “Growing up in Alexandra township, I was involved with a community group doing acting, poetry and traditional dance. But when I was exposed to the genre of Afro-fusion whilst in grade 12, something clicked. I fell in love with it.”

His dreams to study film were thwarted financially “so I joined a musical company, where we did everything from Afro-fusion to gumboot. It toured to Hong Kong in that year.” Also during that year, 2007, he was exposed for the first time to MIDM dancers, Muzi Shili and Thabo Rapoo. His life changed forever. “I developed a great thirst to study further and realised I needed to find a company that would enable me to grow. Three years down the line, I was there with Musi and Thabo. It was unbelievable,” he grins.

“Unlike Sunnyboy I never wanted to be a dancer,” says Erdos. “From the age of 12, I wanted to be a choreographer. Whilst I was in junior high school, a dance company came to our school and did a workshop, involving creating movement from interpretations of a picture.  It was the first time in my life anyone had asked me to express an emotion through dance and this was a real life changer.

“But it’s not so easy to say at the age of 15 you want to be a choreographer. It’s hard enough saying you want to be a dancer, especially where how you are going to earn money is a major concern, so it took a long time until I had the confidence to say that’s what I wanted to do.

“Eventually I settled for dance therapy. It seemed a respectable way of combining dance with a conventional job. I used that to convince my parents to support me through a degree in dance. In the middle, I realised I was trying to convince myself something other than what my heart wanted and I decided I need to try what I really want to do…”

“We’re hoping for it to be soft and violent, aggressive and emotional,” says Erdos about the new work being developed.

“Bringing in input from each of the dancers has made it richer. And we have to go there, enabling the dancers to take ownership of the work,” says Motau.

“I’m not a 5… 6… 7… 8…  choreographer,” Erdos smiles. “Neither of us are.  I am fascinated with the dancers’ personalities on stage. And I want to do something that represents them, but something they could not have done without us.

“I love working with these guys. On the first day, we asked them questions about how males are perceived in society, exploring the difference between animals and man. Each day, we get to do more and see what comes out. For me that’s one of the best parts of the job: getting to work with people who you don’t know. You have to have real trust. As do they. You hope that that work will take us to a place none of us would attempt by ourselves.

Is there life for the piece after Dance Umbrella? “We really hope so,” they concur. “That is the plan. We want it to tour and develop. It goes into both our companies’ repertoires. We can’t wait to see it, ourselves!”

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