Features & Spotlights, New Creations, News + Media

Q & A With Mafa Makhubalo – Part 1

December 14, 2020

Mafa Makhubalo was invited by Canada’s Ballet Jörgen as a choreographer for Solos & Duets and Summer Intensive program annual series from 2013-2017. He has been described as having “profound philosophy in his creation” with “unlimited creativity.” CBJ was thrilled to work with him again for our “Creations in Isolations” Programme where he had his World Premiere of “First Movement” in North Bay, ON at the Capitol Centre.

We had a detailed Q&A with Mafa where he revealed his dance journey and his new piece for CBJ.

My interest was in African Contemporary because when I look at the context of contemporary, it was so interesting between the two worlds.

Could you share what your dance journey has been with training and work? 

I’m originally from South Africa, so, from there you grow up dancing. Dancing for us is something that is on the street. It’s everyday life for us so I’ve been doing that since I was young. When I was 14, I started to be introduced into the contemporary world, like modern dance, by one of mentors who came from Canada down to South Africa to help us with an arts project that we were running there. It was at that time that we were transitioning between the apartheid system into the new Rainbow Nation, so there was a lot of destruction and disorder in the society. We were trying to use art to mobilize peace and, especially the Indigenous people of South Africa to reconnect ourselves back to our roots because everything that we do is encrypted in the arts. We used art as a movement to mobilize. Most of the youth at that time, they were starting to get into drugs and stuff because there was nowhere to go for them because everything was destroyed and there was no order. So, then we started to kind of this movement as a way of collecting all of us. That’s how I came into this world of art. Through that we started to find healings. Through the art we started to be comfortable. 

When I was 18, I started to do my degree in dance [at the University of Technology]. That’s when I started to be introduced to ballet. When we were training, ballet was called a form of modern dance for us. So, it wasn’t like a classical, classical, classical. It was already contemporized. I started to learn the basics of it and from there started to create work, travel all over South Africa and all over the world. In 2006, I said ok, I wanted to explore this modern context that I am growing in, that I’m interested in. So, I looked around. I started first in the UK. I was in the UK for a while. Growing up we saw Canada and America on TV, always being influenced by music, Alvin Ailey, and TDT. So then, I came down to Canada to acquire more skills. I took a training with Ballet Creole for two years and then I worked with the company at the same time. From there I worked with COBA, OMO Dance Theatre, collaborate and freelance artist and then I started to create my own work.

My interest was in African Contemporary because when I look at the context of contemporary, it was so interesting between the two worlds. I said ok, let me find those relationships. I started to work along the mandate of African Contemporary, because I started to realize that I’m no longer doing traditional African because I’m not in the crowd of the style that I’m doing. So then, I’m in the different space but moving with this style.

I started to look at the similarity of my training from ballet, modern dance, tap, jazz, and finding the similarity in the tradition. I love to do a lot of research — the history of ballet and where it came from –— and I found that there is a similarity in music in classical ballet that you find in African dance. The way the score is written. It’s all the same. It’s how we view it and how it’s portrayed based on its geographic context [that’s different]. That’s where I am now — intertwining all these disciplines. For South Africa, in the traditional context, we don’t have a word for dance. Dance for us is music, singing, drama, and dancing. You put it all together. It’s all one because it’s the visual of an act. What we do is an act. But how each and every person interprets it is different so that’s why there’s dance, and music, and painting, and sculpture. For us it is like an entertainment, but not an entertainment in that you make money, but entertainment in interpreting the idea of art. The idea of art – nobody can see it unless you make it a reality. You make it a reality and then it becomes entertainment because you’re enhancing that idea into the visual of the person who is watching.

All these memories that we have, all the strings of memories that run within us. How do we contain them? How do we connect with them? Are they still a part of us or do they now become a museum where we just store them, and we never connect with them, and we’re always looking for something we already have?

What are you exploring in this new piece with the company?

Yes, that’s interesting. It’s the concept of memory — it’s so interesting. When I was in Japan last year, I went to a museum and was fascinated and inspired by an artist. It’s interesting to see how this artist used yarn. She created an installation with yarn. It’s so simple how we take little things for granted, like yarn. It wasn’t just about the yarn but the impact that it had. And it’s the same concept with memory. All these memories that we have, all the strings of memories that run within us. How do we contain them? How do we connect with them? Are they still a part of us or do they now become a museum where we just store them, and we never connect with them, and we’re always looking for something we already have? My question again within using the technology now. Now we have the power of making our memory into reality using technology to make them visions. So now it’s that question of how we keep that relation. How do keep that relation of making it realistic without being too much. Without being overboard, but still being able to connect with us. The idea — how does our memory influence our reality.

“Art is where I take that negativity and lay it down and say ok — let me see this negativity. What can I learn from it? Where is the positivity in it?”

Is there anything or anyone who has inspired your work?

It’s interesting, my work — I’m inspired by the social issues. Coming into a different world and seeing how it is. Looking at Canada and Toronto — it’s a multicultural place but we are still living in our own cocoons. Now, me as a person of colour, coming from a country where there are a lot of disadvantages, then when I come to this side now. I still have to fight with the memories of where I’m coming from and I have to pull through the memories of where I am now. That’s what has inspired me. Art is where I take that negativity and lay it down and say ok — let me see this negativity. What can I learn from it? Where is the positivity in it? Within this negativity there has to be a positivity. There has to be a good within this. I will strip it and I will look for good and then I will take this good and I will move with it. Then the negativity, I will put it aside and say, can I work with it? If I cannot work with it, I put it aside and then I move on. Those elements are the ones that have inspired me to move on in creating work from ordinary people. For me I feel like I’m no different from you or anybody else out there. It’s just because of who we are giving a title to be within a certain umbrella — that’s what differentiates everybody. Other than that, we get influenced by ordinary people. That’s who I got influenced by. 

Part 2 is here.


Written by communications contributor Elise Tigges.