Kulani Nkuna
2 minute read
19 Mar 2014
6:00 am

Pantsula for life

Kulani Nkuna

Lehlohonolo Mathikge's life has always been about survival. Growing up in Orlando, Soweto, trouble brewed with the relatives he was living with after the death of his family.

The Naledi Theatre Production going through their paces in Naledi, Soweto. Picture: Alaister Russell.

He was a good kid – but his cousins were mischievous, which always meant he landed in trouble as well.

Mathikge decided to move out and lived in shacks while hustling to earn his keep. During the hard times he always turned to isipantsula for a smile, which eventually has lead him and others to formalise this traditional township dance by forming a crew, christened the Naledi Theatre Production.

Mathikge and his crew’s chosen dance style means he has to continue to lean on his survival instincts, because isipantsula is on the ropes and – like kwaito, which is pivotal to the dance form’s expression (much like breakdancing was essential to hip hop) – it’s on the verge of oblivion.

“Isipantsula originated in the township and there was a time when many people thought pantsula culture was dead,” says Mathikge.

“There was a heavy shift to hip hop and cultural dance for many people who were starting their own dance crews. But our goal is to send a message that isipantsula is alive and well. And it is not just anybody who can master it. What makes our crew different is that our moves are modernised because of our technique. We looked at elements from other dance disciplines and fused them into our own style. We are storytelling in our choreography.”

Watching their dance routines during practice, it’s easy to see the dancers’ routines are not old-fashioned, but a combination of other disciplines, including hip hop.

“They always say kwaito is dead, but not according to us as dancers,” says Mathikge.

“Kwatio was and is a strong component of isipantsula and we keep it alive with our dancing at battles and shows. But at the same time we are not limited to it, as we can also dance to house music and rave music. As amapantsula, we can fit into many categories. But kwaito is not dead. It cannot die because it is embedded in our culture; it is about our way of life.”

Naledi Theatre Production have set their sights on winning the R100 000 cash prize at this year’s Red Bull Beat Battle, taking place on March 29 and 30.

“We are confident going into the competition because we are here to change people’s concept of isipantsula,” says Mathikge.