By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor
The South African State Theatre in Pretoria has a new associate artistic director Mduduzi Nhlapo who will work closely with the artistic director Aubrey Sekhabi.
Previous holders of this position, which is crucial in calibrating the artistic programme of the institution include poet Napo Mashiane and choreographer Memela. This position is so important in that an associate artistic director for4ms part of the artistic creative team and the relationship between artistic director and associate artistic director has to be tight for the smooth running of the artistic programme.
SA State Theatre appoints Mduduzi Nhlapo as Associate Artistic Director
“The South African State Theatre (SAST) is excited to announce the recent appointment of Soshanguve based award-winning choreographer, writer, director, dramaturg and performer Mr. Mduduzi Nhlapo as its new Associate Artistic Director. Having hit the ground running in August, his duties involve supporting the Artistic Director in creative and administrative duties, directing and choreographing productions, devising education and children’s theatre programmes, providing dramaturgical support to productions, building local and continental collaborations, and managing Kucheza Afrika festival and Vavasati International festival,” says the institution in a media release.
Nhlapo holds an Honours Degree in Drama and Film Studies, majoring in four areas including research, with distinctions in physical theatre, directing, and acting studies from the University of Pretoria(UP). He is the Naledi Theatre Award winner for Best Choreography (2020) and was recently featured as Choreographer and Dramaturge at the National Arts Festival (NAF) 2022. Nhlapo is the Co-founder and Artistic Director of Great Stone Productions.
His lengthy experience includes him being a facilitator, mentor and adjudicator of Gauteng Department of Sports, Arts, Culture & Recreation (GDSACR) programme Ishashalazi Theatre and the SAST’s Incubator programme. A product of the SAST’s development programmes, he has participant experience of both Mayibuye Community Outreach (MCO) field programme and the Incubator Programme which now form part of his portfolio.
Commenting about his plans for the new role, Nhlapo said :“My passion always lied in using theatre as a tool to alleviate social ills, to have it accessible to all. Now as the Associate Artistic Director, I’m ecstatic and fully embodied as this dream dates far back. My role lies solely in reaffirming and repositioning the SAST brand as the largest theatre complex in southern hemisphere, as the trend setter and the benchmark of Africa’s identity, artistic and intellectual excellence.”
Nhlapo’s interest in the arts began at a young age when he was a member of community groups performing traditional dances and township theatre in Soshanguve, northern Pretoria. In 2006 he would take part in the SAST’s first Mzansi Fela community development programme, now MCO, and later participate in GDSACR’s Ishashalazi programme as a performer and director and win best production accolade in 2014 with his athletic production “Last Breath”. In 2016 he’d form part of the SAST’s incubator program.
In addition to his artistic abilities, Nhlapo boasts corporate skills involving brand marketing, repositioning and management together with business acumen, leadership and administrative skills. He was the company manager for international and Broadway hits theatre shows such as Burn the Floor, Saturday Night Fever in 2016, and Bolanle Austin Peter’s Fela and the Kalakuta Queens at the SAST in 2019. Moreover, he has struck collaborations and partnerships with many theatre makers and institutions along his artistic journey.
Reacting to Nhlapo’s appointment, SAST’s Artistic Director Aubrey Sekhabi said: “Having gone through all the programmes that we present, he is best suited for the job. He is young , committed and talented. It is exactly what the industry needs, energy, talent and discipline. I am happy for him, and I wish him luck on this new post. We definitely have an Artistic Director in waiting.”
Under his belt, Nhlapo has produced and directed his poignant dance production KIU for the SAST in 2017, which would be part of the Main program at NAF in 2018. He was the nominee for Best Choreography Naledi Theatre Award with Sekhabi’s Freedom the Musical in 2019 and became winner of the award with Sello Maseko’s Angola Camp 13 in 2020. Last year he premiered his offering Magnificent 7 at Kucheza Afrika Festival.
He is the author and director of the controversial theatrical satire play Lesilo Rula, a biographical play about Boikie Moditle Pholo aka Raithlwana, which played at the SAST under the Department of Sports Arts and Culture program which honoured the legends. As part of Season 5 of ‘The Centre for the Less Good Ideas’ he created a robust physical theatre piece titled “11minutes Before Assassination” with Lulu Mlangeni and the epic politically motivated visceral solo piece titled “Escape”, in which he introduced a muscular style to theatre-making.
In 2019 he choreographed a spectacle in the production KWANELE written and directed by Sekhabi, which was commissioned by the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture for national duty at the Biennale Festival in Luanda, Angola, in response to xenophobic attacks and gender-based violence. In 2021 he collaborated with Jerry Poe as a choreographer and dramaturge in a Musical 1976 at Durban Playhouse Company. In the same year he formed part of 2021/22 Dubai Expo where he represented SA with Pantsula Dance piece titled “Rhythms of Resistance” under DSAC.
Nhlapo’s latest work and collaborations include Josias Dos Moleele’s “KAK” with the Market Theatre Laboratory 2nd year students. Further collaborations are with Maseko with the 2021 Naledi Theatre Awards nominee ASKARI for Best Choreography and Best New South African Script as a Writer, Dramaturge and Choreographer. Askari will be showing at the SAST and Market Theatre for the months of September and October 2022.