Monkeys, giraffes and lions dancing in Kimberley
He brings monkeys, giraffes and lions to learners in the Northern Cape, all through dance. Heather Dugmore speaks to Letlhogonolo Nche about his new production called A Walk In A Museum.
At the dance studio in Kimberley’s Mayibuye Multipurpose Centre, dancer teacher, choreographer and producer, Letlhogonolo Nche, is busy training a lion, or a dancer in a lion costume. He instructs the lion to continue going through his paces while he takes time to discuss A Walk In A Museum.
‘Many of the learners in the Northern Cape communities have never been to a natural history museum or to a live theatre performance – their only experience of theatre has been on TV,’ he explains. ‘So I wanted to create a dance production specifically for them that brings Africa’s amazing wildlife into their schools and imaginations.’
With funding from the Nedbank Arts Affinity and the Arts & Culture Trust (ACT), he has produced A Walk In A Museum, which will be premiered at the Mayibuye Centre on 1 and 2 September and then open at two schools in Kimberley.
A range of wild, African animals
‘In A Walk In A Museum, two leading South African dancers based in the Northern Cape, Angel Mafafo and Peace Kgorotlhe, explore a range of wild African animals to show learners what they look like, how they behave and the sounds that they make. The production has been choreographed to appeal to a wide range of age groups – from five-year-old to 17-year-old learners,’ says Nche who, since 2013, has managed and taught contemporary dance at the Mayibuye Dance Academy, an initiative of the Northern Cape Arts and Culture Council and the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, based at the Mayibuye Multipurpose Centre.
In 2015 Nche, who was born and raised in the rural community of Pampierstad, 120 kms from Kimberley, was the first recipient of the ImpACT Award for Dance – which recognises outstanding individuals making an impact in the development of the arts, culture and creative sectors in South Africa. The Nedbank Arts Affinity is one of the partners of the ACT Awards.
‘A Walk In A Museum is part of my Journey series of productions aimed at inspiring young people and exposing them to the arts from a young age,’ he explains. ‘This helps to give them a strong sense of who they are and an opportunity to think about all the things they can achieve in their lives.
‘I called the series Journey because I am on a journey to discover the opportunities, skills and innovations in the arts that can change the lives of young people. Journey is just one of our initiatives here at the academy where we train young people who want to pursue dance as a career and we help them to secure auditions, apply for scholarships and enter competitions.’
The academy offers programmes for learners in a range of dance styles, including contemporary, ballet, Latin and ballroom.
In 2015 two of his students are among the top six finalists for the annual ACT | DALRO | Nedbank Scholarship. He also mentored his younger brother, Katlego Nche, a talented dancer, actor and singer who won the 2014 ACT | DALRO | Nedbank Scholarship.
Seven of Nche’s students have been offered bursaries by the internationally acclaimed dance company and training institution Moving Into Dance Mophatong to further their dance training in Johannesburg where the company is based, where he also trained in 2009 as a bursary recipient.
Outdated masculine stereotypes
‘Katlego and I are very fortunate that both our parents encouraged our interest in the performing arts,’ he says. ‘Many people’s fathers are caught up in outdated masculine stereotypes but our dad, Tshokolo Nche, who works in maintenance at a bus company, is very supportive of our dancing. At the same time he is supportive of our sister Kesekang Nche’s love of playing soccer.’
Their mom, Pontsho Nche, was a Latin and ballroom dancer who won competitions in her community when she was younger. There were no opportunities for her to pursue a professional dancing career, but she encouraged her sons when they showed an interest in dancing.
‘I was nine when I started doing ballroom and Latin, and I used to get mocked and bullied at school about doing “girls stuff”,’ Nche recalls. ‘It put a lot of emotional strain on me, but I carried on because my love of dance was greater than their putting me down.’
Within two months of starting dancing he was already winning regional competitions with his dance partner. However, it was when he attended the National School Arts Festival in Mafikeng, in grade 10, that he took the decision to pursue dancing as a career. ‘At that festival I met two internationally acclaimed dance partners, Kagiso Ntseane and Tebogo Kgobokoe. I looked up to them and from then on I really wanted to dance.’
Moving into dance
At the same festival, Nche attended a contemporary dance production by Moving into Dance and he knew that this was the style he wanted to pursue.
‘I hadn’t been exposed to contemporary dance before, and after completing my matric at Pampierstad High School I went for an audition at Moving into Dance and I was offered a year’s scholarship for 2009.’
He moved to Joburg, completed the year and then returned home to the Northern Cape, where he volunteered as a dance teacher at schools in Pampierstad and taught afrofusion dance at the Virgin Active gym in Kimberley to make a living.
Taking his skill home
‘For me it was very important to return home, give back and share my knowledge and skills here because of the lack of opportunities available for learners and young people with performing arts talents.’
Nche subsequently became one of the first teachers at the Mayibuye Dance Academy where he developed programmes for learners and young people in the greater Kimberley district.
‘This province isn’t recognised for the arts, but I want to change this because there is so much talent. That is why I am so excited about what can be achieved through the Journey series and this year’s A Walk In A Museum. After the production has opened at the two schools in Kimberley in October I am hoping to raise funds to take it on tour to the rural areas, as I believe we really owe it to the kids.’