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The Centre for Creative Arts and JOMBA! announced last night (Friday, September 4) that this year’s Eric Shabalala Dance Champion Award goes to a colleague of the late Eric Shabalala and fellow founding member of Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre, Ntombi Gasa.

The award, now in its 5th year, was created to honour of the memory of Eric Mshengu Shabalala who tragically passed away in 2011. Shabalala was a local dancer, choreographer, teacher and one of the founding dancers of the Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre in Durban. In a fitting tribute, the Centre for Creative Arts and the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience Dance Festival has set up this annual award to honour some of KwaZulu-Natal’s stalwart dancers and dance teachers – all in the name of Eric Shabalala.

The award is given not only in recognition of performance or choreographic excellence, but also most profoundly in recognition of dance practitioners who have worked tirelessly to help grow a culture of dance and dance training in Durban – who have supported the growth of dance as an art form at both community and regional level.

In selecting recipients, the Jomba! committee look for those gifted individuals who have gone above and beyond – often without funding – to dedicate themselves to the cultural industry and to put KZN dancers and dance on the national and international map.

Past recipients of this prestigious award include Jarryd Watson who was the first recipient in 2011 for his work with the Wentworth Dance Movement, Sifiso ‘Kitsona’ Khumalo in 2012 for his dedicated work in growing the Flatfoot Dance Company’s dance education and development programmes, as well as developing his own community’s dance programme in Clermont.

In 2013, the award was given jointly to Byron ‘Bizzo’ Tifflin and Preston ‘Kayzo’ Kyd who, often having to operate in a situation with no funding, and these two dancers still manage to grow a community of dancers and their Bboy dance crew, the 031 Floor Assassins, is testament to this.

In 2014, the award was jointly given to Jabu Siphika, Julia Wilson and Zinhle Nzama. They are especially honoured for the dance development work they are doing though FLATFOOT DANCE COMPANY with young girls and women in KZN and with using dance to address a society fraught with difficult gender politics that often makes the lives of young women so challenging.

Ntombi Gasa is a choreographer, dancer and dance teacher. She serves as a director on the company’s board and heads Siwela Sonke’s Training and Development Programmes. She began her dance career in 1994 at the Natal Playhouse Youth Development Programme under the directorship of Alfred Hinkel and then Jay Pather. Gasa obtained a Dance in Education certificate from the University of KwaZulu Natal in 2000.

Gasa has performed and travelled extensively with Siwela Sonke. Some notable performances include Ahimsa UbuntuKitchen(winner of the Brett Kebble Art Prize), RepublicSouth African SiddhartaCityscapesThe Beautiful Ones Must be BornBody of EvidenceQaphela Caesar! and rite under the direction of Jay Pather.

She has a long international performance career as well which spans New York, Bombay, New Delhi, Sri Lanka, Dusseldorf, Madras, Madagascar, Copenhagen, Los Angeles, Den Haag and London. She (together with the late Eric Shabalala) led twelve young South Africans to tour 17 cities in the Netherlands as part of the World Children’s Festival.

Throughout her career, Gasa has valued working with both young children and the elderly. She currently runs classes and teaches students from 6 years to 75 years. Her strong focus on development has seen her bringing dance and dance education to various communities in KwaZulu Natal, both rural and urban, from KwaMachai in the South Coast to KwaMashu

“In all of this she remains, humble and modest. She best epitomizes what Eric Shabalala himself showed us: a hidden treasure that has enriched the world yet someone that remains KwaZulu Natal’s very own.” says the JOMBA! committee.

JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience has two performances left tonight (September 5) and tomorrow (September 6) at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. For more info go to www.cca.ukzn.ac.za.

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