Feb 25, 2016

GIC caught up with German-based South African choreographer, Jessica Nupen ahead of the premiere of REBELLION & JOHANNESBURG to talk about the inspiration behind this work, which is supported by the German Embassy Pretoria.

Exploration and Finding her voice as a dancer and choreographer

Jessica Nupen
(© Steve Thomas)
Nupen did ballet as a young girl from an early age and describes it as therapeutic saying, “The classical music allowed me to express myself in a way that words couldn’t.” She laughs when saying, “Contemporary dance is something I discovered later in life; at the time [in South Africa] it wasn’t something that young white girls did.”  She became inspired by the unattainable ideal of perfection required in ballet, which caused her to constantly search, explore and find new ways of expressing herself, which she describes as a key part of her work.

Nupen left home at 17 and explored Europe for 10 years, immersing herself in arts and cultural events and happenings there. Being away from home gave Nupen the chance to draw on her South African roots as a source of inspiration, “I found my heritage in the process of creating work and this allowed me to rediscover parts of myself” continues Nupen.

She describes her family as being politically conscious with her parents being actively involved in the IEC elections in 1994 and her father working closely with Steve Biko. She earnestly says, “Politics was very much a part of my upbringing and there would often be political discussions around the dinner table.” It’s no surprise that she creates thought-provoking work that resonates with current events in society and REBELLION & JOHANNESBURG is no exception, tackling the vibrant youth culture of Johannesburg through the classic Shakespearean tale of Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo & Juliet / REBELLION & JOHANNESBURG
(© Steve Thomas)
The cast comprises of dancers from Moving Into Dance Mophatong (MIDM) with original music by Spoek Mathombo, colourful costumes designed by Anmari Honniball’s and Ed Blignaut’s abstract film. Nupen worked together with the cast and co-choreographer Sunnyboy Motau (as well as artistic assistant Oscar Buthelezi).

Working with the dancers from Moving Into Dance Mophatong
She met the artistic director of Moving Into Dance Mophatong by chance in Hamburg and later did a workshop with the dancers. Nupen was taken with the openness and spontaneity with which the dancers approached movement. She was excited by the connection the dancers shared with one another and their willingness to take risks. “In all art there is an element of risk; it is this risk that brings the work to life,” says Nupen.

South African performers vs European performers
When talking about working with South African performers she describes this as a common understanding, what she terms as, “knowing where we coming from.” She excitedly speaks about the collaborative process involved in the creation of REBELLION & JOHANNESBURG, “Many of the initial rehearsals were in discussion with the cast; where we took the time to talk about issues, ask questions and figure out what the work was about. There was a sense of collaboration and working together to create the piece,” says Nupen. 

She thoughtfully describes the some of the dancer’s determination and experience of travelling via Bree Street on the way to rehearsals; despite facing the possibility of being mugged or attacked. It is these kinds of experiences that were drawn on; that add a richness and diversity to the work.

REBELLION & JOHANNESBURG opens the 2016 Dance Umbrella this evening, February 25 at the University of Johannesburg Arts Centre.

Read more about Jessica Nupen
Read more about Dance Umbrella

© GIC Africa

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