Theo Ndindwa is someone who, by rights, shouldn’t need an introduction. As Executive Director of iKapa Dance Theatre, he’s been producing innovative and socially-relevant work for nearly a decade – alongside his talented co-director and wife Tanya Arshamian.
Now, in their most ambitious move so far, Theo, Tanya and iKapa are presenting the inaugural Cape Town International Dance Festival, in collaboration with the Maboneng Township Arts Experience and New York’s Battery Dance company.
Running from 23 November to 3 December, the festival offers a packed programme of dance workshops, talks, exhibitions, film screenings and explosive performances. Each day offers a new opportunity to engage with dance and with the festival’s themes, but the high point for many will be the Cultures Connect gala event on 28 November, featuring 12 incredible companies from SA, New York, China, Finland, Spain and Mozambique.
The festival’s theme, Town and Township, has distinct parallels in the life of its founder. Today an exceptionally talented dancer, choreographer and director, Theo started out in the arts as a student of Dance for All in Guguletu, an outreach programme by what was then the Cape Performing Arts Board. His journey in dance took him from the township all the way to a career in the United Kingdom, before he returned home to co-found iKapa, which has a huge youth outreach arm of its own.
The Cape Town International Dance Festival has been three years in the making. What inspired you to put together this collaborative celebration of dance?
Right from when Tanya and I started iKapa, we had always had something like this in mind. Our observation was that the dance and arts industry is very segmented and needs more platforms such as this to unite and celebrate what we all have to offer.
In 2012 we met the directors of Battery Dance from NYC and the Maboneng Township Arts Experience, starting a conversation that developed the international and local partnerships that are the backbone of our festival.
You’ve secured some awesome companies from here and around the globe for the festival. Are international companies generally excited and curious about performing here?
Definitely. International dance companies want to visit Africa, and certainly Cape Town. Our city is full of history, heritage, talent and inspiration that visitors want to experience.
And I think the festival has a great proposition, as the Town and Township theme is unique to us. We can own this experience, as we are the only festival that brings the heart of the city and township together in a single experience for foreigners and South Africans alike.
Part of iKapa Dance Theatre’s ethos has always been social upliftment. In what ways have you seen dance make a difference in disadvantaged communities?
I am an example of this success. I come from Guguletu township and now I am bringing an international festival and artists from around the world to Cape Town and, more importantly, back to Guguletu. This is the power of the arts.
There are and will be more examples of this, and it will impact the industry. At iKapa, for instance, we have our own students who have developed from unfocused youth into professional artists, thanks to the training and opportunities we have provided.
This festival has inspired such motivation in our students. Many of those performing in the festival come from disadvantaged communities, and are now representing South Africa on this international platform.
You were a part of Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative in Washington DC last year. What insights (dance-related or otherwise) did you come back with?
It really reinforced my belief in what we do and the impact that dance (and the arts in general) can have on the success of society and the growth of our youth and economy. The arts industry is a powerful tool. It inspires, connects and focuses us. It is a base for growth and it enables us to achieve and be more. It is a social development tool for both disadvantaged and advantaged communities – it can be used to bridge gaps between people, communities and countries.
Not to cast too bleak a shadow, but dance as an art form is generally underfunded and performances under-attended in Cape Town. Do you think projects like the Cape Town International Dance Festival can help to change that? What else can we do?
Yes, I intend for this initiative to not only bring people to the theatre and the township, but also to raise awareness that the arts in South Africa are of the same quality as those from across the globe. It’s not only that we can host international artists, but that we can present alongside them. We hope that communities will come together to support this festival and other international and national work going forward.
If individuals want to support your outreach projects, how can they best do so?
We have various ways for people to get involved, some of which don’t cost a cent.
iKapa Dance Training and Outreach is a beneficiary of the MySchool programme – if supporters make us one of their beneficiaries, we receive a small percentage of everything they spend at some of the countries’ most established stores, including Woolworths.
We are also registered with GivenGain, an international platform that allows people to make monthly contributions to registered charities. For just R100 per month you can sponsor a child to dance, putting them on a path filled with opportunities in the arts.
We also accept any volunteering of time and skill, as well as any donation of items other than money, as we work with youth and communities in need of various types of resources.
Looking ahead, what’s on the cards for iKapa in 2016?
Well, we finish the festival and head straight to the UK to represent Cape Town in the SA/UK season.
After that, we’ll continue training our youth and start planning for next year’s festival. Tanya and I will be creating a new work for the festival next year, which will be directed by Mandla Mbothwa, the Creative Director of Artscape Theatre. We’ll need to find the time to change from directors and festival leaders back to choreographers and performers. It is sometimes hard to find the time to create, but that will be our mission for 2016.
Photography iKapa Dance Theatre, Pori Dance Company, Battery Dance Company