South African dance company Via Katlehong made their Sadler’s Wells debut in incredible fashion with Via Injabulo. In collaboration with Dance Umbrella, Via Katlehong partnered with two choreographers to create a two-part show that is powerful, thought-provoking, and awe-inspiring.

Credit: Pedro Sardinha

Via Katlehong Dance Company was formed in 1992 by young street dancers living in the South African Township of Katlehong. The company was formed in response to the violence taking over the lives of those living in Katlehong. The impact of Via Katlehong is still being felt, changing the township’s reputation, and bringing tourism and young people into the fold of dance. Pantsula, a South African township dance was celebrated throughout the performance. It was explained in the post-show talk that Pantsula is “magical footwork”, incorporating shouting and aggression that is not taken seriously as a professional dance form. To my eyes it was certainly magical, reminding me of tap dancing, krumping, and stepping.

The first piece, førm inførms, choreographed by Marco da Silva Ferreira felt powerful and political, deliberately unsettling the audience with the powerful display. The performance begins in complete darkness, more complete than usual in a theatre. The first minutes of the performance are not set to music, Thulisile Binda, undulates and isolates their body in such captivating ways whilst the remaining six dancers create a voyeuristic scene as they watch. Binda’s movement and use of breath feel otherworldly.

The white stage is lit in numerous effective ways by Cárin Geada. First flooded with red light, then creating silhouettes, then isolating small sections of the vast stage for the dancers to inhabit. These isolations are reflected in the dancers’ movements, making the movement of a shoulder or a hand beautiful to watch. The music (Jonathan Uliel Saldanha) is powerful, dominated by majestic horn sections. førm inførms ends the way it begins, without music, showcasing pantsula and the powerful clapping and tapping rhythms.

The dancers represent different body types and different dance styles and still create compelling synchronicity. Da Silva Ferreira’s choreography showcases the rawness of the movement, we are watching the inner workings of the body and soul through dance.

The interval is an invitation to join a party, as the DJ decks were set up, the dancers took turns delighting the audience with their artistry.

Credit: Pedro Sardinha

The second piece, Emaphakathini, choreographed by Amala Dianor, is a party which felt collective and distinctly individual to each dancer. In the post-show talk, Lungile Mahlangu shared that whilst førm inførms had been political, Emaphakathini was a chance to “celebrate after the scars”, it is highly improvised and internally focused, whereas førm inførms was audience-focused. Mahlangu also revealed how much the intermission drives the way Emaphakathini is presented, their movements are allowed to fit how each person is feeling at that moment. The organic dance party focus of Emaphakathini is a release for the audience and the performers, bringing humorous moments in amongst the incredible dancing. 

Throughout Via Injabulo, the connection and teamwork between the dancers and their ability to slip in and out of unison with each other is like witnessing an ecosystem, sometimes harmonious, sometimes dissonance, but always moving and living. When asked what the aim of the show was Mahlangu replied “to make people happy with our bodies”. This was absolutely achieved, the dance form of Pantsula deserves the utmost respect.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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