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Q & A With Mafa Makhubalo – Part 2

December 17, 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.

Part 1 of our interview is here.

The second part of the Q&A we discuss creating during COVID-19 and working with the Company.

Adrián Ramírez Juárez performing in “First Movement”– World Premiere in North Bay’s Capitol Centre, choreography by Mafa Makhubalo & music by Koukou by Traditional African Music. Photo by Colton West Photography.

“…I have to follow movement because that’s where I believe it goes. If it’s on Zoom, it’s hard because you can never know what the person says because you’re hitting this technology [wall].”

What is it like creating during a pandemic? How are you creating?

I’m creating with the company in the studio. I know with the pandemic, it’s kind of insane, but I feel this is work that maybe was a blessing to be with the dancers after so long. I tried to do the video thing, it’s not the same. Yes, I know we’re moving into that generation but some of us, we take time with technology. 

Working with the company in the space makes my work easier because I work from rhythm and reaction. I believe that whenever there is an action, there has to be a reaction. That’s where I get the impulse from. Sometimes I’ll come with a creative idea and when I get there it will bounce back in a different way. I have to follow movement because that’s where I believe it goes. If it’s on Zoom, it’s hard because you can never know what the person says because you’re hitting this technology [wall]. 

Yes, there’s this delay that cuts us off the reactions that inform the work in the moment. So then what has it been like creating in the studio during the pandemic? Have you had to adjust your approach? Has that informed what is being created?

Yes, being a dancer and growing up in the culture of interacting with one another by touching and moving, it’s hard for me because most of the time I will have to explain. Again, if and when I explain, it’s hard for them to pick it up right away because if they don’t see it, even if they see it, they don’t feel it in their body. It’s hard to tell. Sometimes we get those awkward moments, and then I have to switch my approach. I have to let the artists themselves, guide me. Then, I put in my endurance and my spices and everything. It’s kind of hard because I’m a person who loves to move and touch.

“After this, what is going to happen? Now we’re going to have the withdrawal of the pandemic. Everyone has been forced so much. By the time we get back to normal, nobody will know what normal is anymore.”

Yes, you really have to be adapting quickly.

It was funny and interesting — the first day I came in, I went through the screening, and we have to walk 6 ft apart. There’s a line. In my mind I’m thinking, is it where we’re going? Is it where society is going? We’re going to be following. We’re going to be like ants. We’re no longer going to have this freedom. We’re no longer going to have this freedom of thinking. Somebody is going to be watching us, and telling us, giving us orders, and we just follow those orders. What’s happening? 

Sometimes they forget that we’re human beings. We don’t just change like that. Even with the world around you, we don’t just change like that. Yes, there’s certain things happening. Yes, we have to enforce change, but we have to allow the force, the process to go on. After this, what is going to happen? Now we’re going to have the withdrawal of the pandemic. Everyone has been forced so much. By the time we get back to normal, nobody will know what normal is anymore. We’re going to be in fear more. Now we are afraid of one another, you know because of race. Now we have pandemic. Those are the issues, things that get me — I just want to be on the stage and explode in a creation way. It’s like, this is what is happening. We are in control. We can change this. We are in control of our own selves. We start on our own, and then that one person connects to another person. It’s like rain. Rain doesn’t just come, it’s a combination of drops and when those drops become heavy, we get a flood. It’s the same thing. Those are the tastes, the energies, the elements, the spices that makes me go into creation and challenge the artist. My mom, she always says that I am abnormal. She said that I always speak the opposite of what the society is saying. 

“They know one another so I can even go beyond. We create, we see what works and what doesn’t work. We communicate. I’m taking them out of that mindset of just because you are in a company doesn’t mean you don’t have a say.”

It’s the different outlooks and approaches that create the change that is necessary. You had mentioned that you worked with Solos and Duets and the Summer Program before. This is your first time working with the company. Is the experience different this time?

Yes, this time I think it’s a bit different because the mindset is different. The previous one was more that they were there because they train and then they move on in their own program. This one, they’re here permanently and full-time. It’s kind of like…it’s easy because the culture is different. They have developed that unity, that ensemble amongst themselves so it’s easy to work with them. I don’t have to find the connection because they’re working together. It’s a bit different, even now, in terms of trust and I creation I can even go more because they trust one another. They know one another so I can even go beyond. We create, we see what works and what doesn’t work. We communicate. I’m taking them out of that mindset of just because you are in a company doesn’t mean you don’t have a say. You are a business on your own. You see a company as an agent that knits you to be there. When you receive the creation, it becomes easy for you to interpretate, because you are in charge of yourself. So now when you present it, you can back up what you are presenting. It’s not because Mafa said this — it’s because “I am doing it this way because I understood this”. So now you have a say on it, and it becomes yours.


Written by communications contributor Elsie Tigges.