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Director and choreographer at Surialanga

Directed by veteran dancer and choreographer Suria Govender, Surialanga debuted at a moment of national euphoria: Nelson Mandela's presidential inauguration. Asked to present a gift of art to the president, Govender assembled 17 young Indian women and choreographed a Bharatnatyam dance to Johnny Clegg's classic anti-apartheid song, with English and Zulu lyrics, Asimbonanga. The dance was a landmark. It seemed to imagine intercultural futures that South Africans were not even sure they were capable of dreaming. Some said Govender was ahead of her time, others disapproved of what she'd done, feeling that her choreography lacked "purity." Little did anyone know that that was just the beginning.

Within a few years of that 1994 inauguration, Govender had expanded the project to include Zulu children from the township of Claremont. These were children who had been learning Zulu traditional dancing on Saturdays with a local teacher. A handful were recognized as especially talented, S'bu and Sandile among them, and were invited to come learn more dancing with Professor Govender. One thing led to another, and soon, Surialanga was producing items that symbolized interculturalism even more dramatically than the inaugural performance: Zulu men and Indian women holding hands, dancing together, exchanging the movements of Bharatnatyam, Zulu, and gumboot;and other Indian and traditional Zulu dance.
One US commentator Prof Smitha Radhakrishnan of Welsley college, Cambridge Massachussets observed that “the custodians of our supposedly ancient Indian culture is not just the bejewelled Indian girls but two young Zulu men – S’busiso and Sandile – who just happen to be full-time Bharatnatyam dancers and teachers.”

Dr Devi Rajab a S African author and commentator wrote : Professor Govender’s critics have slated her for ruining a pure dance form through her multicultural adaptation, saying “teach it by all means to anyone, but teach it as a pure form.” But had she listened to her critics, we would never have had an opportunity for a moment of national euphoria such as we did at the presidential inauguration of Mandela. Asked to present a gift of art to the president, Suria assembled 17 young Indian dancers 16 women and 1 man as it happened. She choreographed a Bharatnatyam dance to Johnny Clegg’s classic anti-apartheid song Asimbonanga. The dance was considered to be a landmark in intercultural experimentation landmark. It seemed to imagine intercultural futures that South Africans were not even sure they were capable of dreaming about.

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