VINCENT SEKWATI KOKO MANTSOE of SOWETO AND PARIS

This will be my first attempt at a truly on-the-run blog. I am watching Vincent and Association Noa rehearse in our Exploratory Arts studio. What a pleasure. Here’s the way it is when you invite artists to perform in a space for which you are responsible. You see a performance somewhere in the world. It seems to you to be brilliant, moving, unique, inspiring—you love it and want it to come to your town to be shared with people who care about contemporary performing arts and other cultures and exploring a bit!

You invite the artist, find the money to pay some modest fees, prepare your theater for their particular requirements. AND THEN THEY APPEAR. And all of a sudden, however much you admire them as artists and people you wonder if this particular piece is as great as you remember…if your friends will think you did good…if your audience will go away happy.

But THEN at some moment you know that, yes indeed, you made a really wise decision!

That’s how I felt a few minutes ago…just sitting in on a few passages from SAN, the piece the company will perform here Friday and Saturday. Setting: Dancers tired from a day at Acoma, just arrived from France day before yesterday so jet lag is lurking, they’re in their warm-up clothes, it is not glamorous. And then a little of the music (Sufi music!) and they start going through some of the moves. Oh yeah…that’s why we wanted them to come. It is pure pleasure to watch them move and act silly and get serious and practice and prepare. Every dancer in this company is so very accomplished, has such presence.  Also it is quite amazing to see people with such different body types incorporate that unique “Vincent” movement and spirit into their own dance personas.

I saw SAN on stage in Johannesburg at Dance Umbrella last spring and thought it fine and beautiful and was so happy I had made a commitment to invite the artists here to Albuquerque. But you know…the months since…is it really as good as I remember I wonder? As good as all of Vincent’s other remarkable work?

WELL YES. IT IS. I am so excited that this is happening. I am so looking forward to Friday and Saturday nights. SAN IS BEAUTIFUL.

Jonathan Khumbulani Nkala

Jonathan Khumbulani  Nkala is getting used to the idea that he is  storyteller, actor, poet, comedian—in other words an artist! When he crossed the Limpopo River leaving destitute Zimbabwe for the promise of South Africa, he was a desperate young man who needed a life and a place to make one for himself. That story is one of two (The Crossing and the Bicycle Thief) Jonathan will tell at the N4th Theater Saturday and Sunday (October 9 & 10).

Jonathan began his artistic journey on the beach at Camps Bay, making and selling his bead and wire figures to the beautiful people visiting Cape Town’s upscale oceanfront where, along with white sand, blue water and warm breezes, you get souvenir vendors and storytellers. It seems kids in Zimbabwe grow up fashioning an array of imaginative toys out of found wire and other debris from both the breaking down and building up of their neighborhoods. They put this skill to good use when they wind up as refugees on a tourist beach.

Jonathan needed something to differentiate himself from all of the other wire and bead arts vendors. His entrepreneurial spirit, which had brought him all the way from a Zimbabwean village to the shores of one of the world’s most desirable cities, came into play. He started to tell his story to the tourists interested in his little figures and—it turns out—Jonathan is a natural-born storyteller.

Now Jonathan will have to comment on this story because I am leaving out some details—but it goes something like this: some of the visitors to the beach hearing Jonathan’s story had connections in comedy and/or commercial media circles and, being impressed with his comedic and dramatic skills, would give him their numbers.

Usually when Jonathan called the numbers it turned out they weren’t so interested after all. Then one was!

Jonathan auditioned for a commercial, got the part, and Bo, an actress and acting coach (among her many professional talents), was called in to help Jonathan smooth out some rough edges. Since then they have been on this journey together from Bo working with Jonathan as diction coach to hosting a performance in her garage with her theater friends in attendance. The audience will have a chance to ask Jonathan and Bo more about this artistic journey after the N4th performances. It is a fascinating story of art and talent and hope winning out in the end.

An important part of Jonathan’s story and Bo’s story as well, is the effect the 2008 xenophobic attacks had on them. South Africa is a sanctuary for refugees from all of the poverty and war visited on the African continent, for people simply trying to find a way to live out their lives with some modicum of safety. The violence that erupted in 2008, brutal attacks against the many Zimbabweans and others who had made it south to Cape Town, was a signal to Jonathan and Bo that it was important that Jonathan’s story get told for reasons beyond his personal artistic goals. We think it is an important time for people in the US to hear this story—and think about combating the xenophobic streak that rears its ugly head here from time to time. Jonathan’s stories are told with dramatic skill and comic timing—they are great fun, full of hope AND important cautionary tales!