In 1988 Vita Promotions, in conjunction with two individuals, both journalists, (Adrienne Sichel and Marilyn Jenkins) with a passionate interest in contemporary choreography and dance, launched the Vita Dance Umbrella in Johannesburg. The focus of the Dance Umbrella was to offer a free and open platform to any form of dance as long as it was a new contemporary work. The first edition of the festival opened in February 1989 with fourteen choreographers presenting work. Between 1988 and 1989, the producers managed to attract people from all sectors of the community and the Dance Umbrella heralded a celebration of the diversity of this country.

Herewith a history of the Dance Umbrella:

1989:    The first Dance Umbrella festival presented work from fourteen choreographers. This included Robyn Orlin, Kim Thackwray, Jeannette Ginslov, Jill Waterman, Carly Dibakwane, Gerard Bester and Eric Bouvron.

1990:    40 choreographers entered. Format established of four evening programmes, each performed twice; and free Fringe programme/s, performed once.   Vita provided the venue, all publicity, programmes, posters, advertising etc. at no cost to participants.   Costs directly related to mounting the work was the responsibility of participating choreographers. 1989 awards presented. IGI Life was the sponsor of the festival until 1993, when First National Bank took over and who funded the festival until 2012.

1991:     68 choreographers entered. Workshop series and dance forum.
James Saunders of Tanz Projekt in Cologne performed, and gave a series of classes. 1990 awards presented.

1992:    65 choreographers entered. Workshop series and dance forum. 1991 awards presented; Fringe awards introduced, drawing on performances seen at the 1992 Fringe.

1993:    80  choreographers entered.  Introduced a “Moving Signatures” feature to the programming; those choreographers whose work had had seminal effect on contemporary dance in South Africa were invited to form part of this. Workshop series; featured invited teacher Clare Baker of the Laban Centre in London (she also performed) The DU extended to southern Africa, and invited the newly established Tumbuka Dance Company of Zimabwe, under the artistic direction of Neville Campbell, to perform. 1992 awards presented

1994:    Over 90 choreographers entered Tumbuka from Zimbabwe and Nambu Dance from Mozambique took part. Interest from National Dance Company in Mozambique (sent their Director and Artistic Director to view the season); from National Dance company in Zaire; etc. Workshop series. 1993 awards presented the inaugural Young Choreographer’s Grants (made by FNB Vita and the Foundation for the Creative Arts) presented to Boyzie Cekwana (then resident choreographer with NAPAC Dance Company in Durban) and to Vincent Mantsoe of Moving into Dance.  The grant was intended to enable them to choreograph new works for premiere performance at the 1995 FNB Vita Dance Umbrella.

1995:   Approx. 110 choreographers - aspirant and established - took part in Dance Umbrella. Premiere performance of ‘Still’ by Boyzie Cekwana; and ‘Hanano Blessing of the Earth’ by Vincent Mantsoe.
Selected choreographers from the 1994 Shongololo in Durban, the Indaba in Cape Town and the Kopano in Bloemfontein took part at our invitation. Workshop series.  1994 awards presented.  Young Choreographers Grants made to David Matamela and PJ Sabbagha, for premiere performance in 1996.

1996:     There emerged a clear sense that certain choreographers were     moving forward, whether through experimentation or technically, and others were locked into their own formula.    FNB Vita sent a questionnaire to all past and current participants, requesting feedback on all aspects of the Umbrella.    As a result, it was decided to make changes to the 1996 DU. Following on its professed intention to nurture and encourage creative talent, FNB Vita organized and underwrote a series of choreographic workshops at the end of 1995, given by Ms. Robyn Orlin.   Five choreographers who had shown distinct creative choreographic ability were selected to take part; the aim of the week-long workshop was to awaken in each inherent possibilities, to encourage them to extend themselves and explore their own creative imagination with enhanced self-confidence.   

1997:    Approximately 120 works entered, involving the usual mix of performance levels and styles - again from established and new choreographers.  Based on the response to the questionnaire, the Umbrella was restructured to include a Main Programme consisting of established and International companies. The Fringe section formed the bulk of the programme.    An additional programme, called Stepping Stones, will run all day on Sunday/s; no entry charge.  Premiere performance of works commissioned under Young Choreographers’ Grants. 1996 FNB Vita Awards for Choreography and Dance in Contemporary Style was presented.

FNB Dance Umbrella underwent more changes as the event
attracted more entries. The Fringe programme was no longer included. This meant that the Main programme consisted of entries from known choreographers and the Stepping Stones focused on Youth groups.

1998:    The 10th FNB Vita Dance Umbrella was presented at the Wits Theatre and opened with a Gala Evening on Friday February 27. The Gala programme included commissioned works choreographed by all the previous winners of the FNB Vita Awards for Contemporary choreography. A highlight in this programme was the performance of SAVANNAH, choreographed by Boyzie Cekwana and performed by the Washington Ballet.
The Dance Umbrella ran until March 21 and included five Main programmes, a new programme of invited longer works called Progressions and three Stepping Stones programmes which include mainly work from new choreographers and youth groups.
Over 200 new works were presented at this festival.

After the 1998 Dance Umbrella a Forum was held at the Dance Factory to discuss the problems the festival was facing mainly due to the large number of entries and lack of time to present all professionally. FNB Vita has followed up on this forum and restructured the festival to include Main Programmes in the evenings, a new programme entitled New Moves which focuses on up and coming choreographers, Stepping Stones. It was also decided to commission up to 10 choreographers to present a new work, aside from the annual Young Choreographer’s Grants.

1999:    The 11th Dance Umbrella was held from February 26 to March 20 and was considered by many as being one of the most successful. As a result of the forum held in 1998, Vita restructured the festival to include a new slot entitled New Moves; commissioned 10 choreographers to produce a new work and hosted three international companies: Marc van Runxt and Hyena from Belgium; Reijo Kela from Norway and Virpi Pahkinen from Denmark .
Apart from this, they also offered one more established choreographer (Robyn Orlin) a programme of her own for which she produced the highly successful piece ‘daddy, ive seen this piece 6 times before and I still don’t know why they’re hurting each other’.
The 1999 Dance Umbrella presented 14 programmes which included new works by more than 200 choreographers. The commissioned choreographers all unanimously agreed that this opportunity to create a work was very motivating and the experience was a highlight in their careers.

2000:   The 12th FNB Vita Dance Umbrella took place at The Wits Theatre, Braamfontein and, for the first time, the Dance Factory in Newtown. With 14 programmes, this festival proved yet again to be a highlight on the local arts calendar. Commissioned choreographers this year included: Alfred Hinkel (Jazzart, Cape Town); Boyzie Cekwana (Durban), Sylvia Glasser, Moeketsi Koena, Jeanette Ginslov, Portia Mashigo, P J Sabbagha, Simon Nkosi, Elu, Gregory Maqoma and Gary Gordon

The FNB Vita Dance Umbrella 2000 also hosted several international dance festival programmers and Artistic Directors such as Jean-Paul Montanari from the Montpellier Dance Festival and Val Bourne from the London Dance Umbrella. Subsequently, South African choreographers have been invited to present their work at festivals in Europe during the coming year. The Dance Umbrella 2001 featured over 200 new works.

2001:    The FNB Vita Dance Umbrella 2001 hosted 157 choreographer presenting over 200 new works and again took place at The Wits Theatre and The Dance Factory. Overseas companies included Adam Benjamin who collaborated with South African dancers and disabled performers in a unique piece entitled The Querist’s Quire which was brought to the festival with the assistance of the British Council. Other international artists who featured wereFoofwa d’Imobilite and     Katharina Vogel from Switzerland; Arja Raaitikainen from Finland; Akram Khan from the UK, Valerie Berger from Reunion Island and Pascal Montrouge from France. These artists appeared with the assistance of Pro Helvetia, the Embassy of Finland, The British Council and the French Institute, respectively.

Commissioned South African artists for Dance Umbrella 2001 included Johan van der Westhuizen, David Gouldie, Jay Pather, Vincent Mantsoe, Zwelethu Sebolai, Sello Pesa, Gladys Agulhas, Moeketsi Koena and Boyzie Cekwana.

2002:    FNB Vita Dance Umbrella 2002 took place at The Wits Theatre and Dance Factory from February 20 to March 16, 2002. The main highlights of the festival included commissioned works by  Robyn Orlin, Boyzie Cekwana, Christopher Kindo, Lean Coetzer, Gregory Maqoma, Bevan Cullinan, Timothy le Roux and Sbonakaliso Ndaba

Overseas companies who performed at the FNB Vita Dance Umbrella 2002 included Dean Moss from The Kitchen (New York, USA); Robert Hylton (England); Alias Compagnie (Switzerland); Salia Ni Seydou (France/Burkina Faso) and Giselle Greau (France).

As of 2003, First National Bank decided they would like to focus only on the Dance Umbrella in Johannesburg, which in turn will make it a National Festival.  A new partnership with the National arts Council was launched to focus on the development of new choreographers and focusing on the Stepping Stones programme

2003:     The FNB Dance Umbrella 2003 featured international companies such as Emio Greco/PC from Holland, Phillipe Saire from Switzerland and Tumbuka Dance Company from Zimbabwe. Commissioned artists included Moeketsi Koena who collaborated with Madagascar-based Gaby Saranouffi; Gladys Agulhas; Gregory Maqoma; Sello Pesa; Jazzart Dance Company. The FNB Young Choreographers Residency was launched with assistance from the National Arts Council.  Ten students participated in a week of intensive workshops and discussions, as well as seeing all programmes of the Dance Umbrella.  A new FNB Dance Umbrella Grant was also announced, offering an established choreographer the opportunity to present a new full-length piece at Dance Umbrella 2004. This takes the place of the Contemporary Choreography and Dance Awards and is an amount of R40,000.

2004:   Commissioned choreographers for the FNB Dance Umbrella 2004 included: A collaboration by Boyzie Cekwana and artists Rodney Place (SA); Robyn Orlin (SA); Vincent Mantsoe (SA); Reginald Dunster (SA); Nelisiwe Xaba (SA); Hlengiwe Lushaba (SA);; Thoriso Mongongwa (SA); Portia Mashigo (SA) and Lliane Loots (SA. International companies include Gilles Jobin (Switzerland); Kibbutz Dance Company (Israel; Tumbuka Dance Company (Zimbabwe), Le Compagnie Temps (Senegal) and Faustin Linyekula (Congo).  The 1st recipient of the New Dance Umbrella Grant was Gladys Agulhas. The rest of the programme included new works ranging from community groups, up and coming young choreographers and established SA choreographers.

2005:    The 17th Dance Umbrella was a clear reflection of what a big part this festival has played in the contemporary dance scene in South Africa and more recently, internationally. For the first time the Dance Umbrella co-produced a new work from Boyzie Sekwana. Phillip Stein Grant recipients include Athena Mazarakis from Johannesburg and Hlengiwe Lushaba from Durban. Other commissioned choreographers include Moeketsi Koena, PJ Sabbagha, Gregory Maqoma, Gerard Bester (Johannesburg);  Sbonakaliso Ndaba (Durban); Jazzart Dance Theatre (Cape Town) and a collaboration between the Tribhangi Dance Company and a Birmingham-based choreographer. International companies include the British Akram Khan Company and Metzger/ Zimmermann/ de Perrot from Switzerland.

2006:    FNB Dance Umbrella 2006 ran from February 23 to March 18, 2006. This year can be recorded as one of the most successful as the programmes played to mostly 80% capacity. The Young choreographers Residency programme also too place and hosted 12 young artists. The International artists who participated included Emio Greco/PC from Holland and Nicole Seiler from Switzerland. The Dance Umbrella also was a co-producer for the Vincent Mantsoe work Men-Jaro and it had its world-premiere at the festival.

2007:    The FNB Dance Umbrella 2007 took place in Johannesburg from February 23 to March 17, 2007.  The festival again presented work from community-based/youth groups to international companies. Commissioned artists included Constance Kau and Mdu Mtshali, Peter van Heerden (Cape Town), Gary Gordon (Grahamstown), Gregory Maqoma, Musa Hlatshwayo (Durban) Gladys Agulhas and Tossie van Tonder. International companies include Compagnie Linga from Switzerland, Panaibra Gabriel from Mozambique and le Premieres Temps from Burkina Faso.

2008:    The Dance Umbrella celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. The commissioned artists included Robyn Orlin, Vincent Mantsoe, PJ Sabbagha, Jayesperi Moopen, JAZZART Dance Theatre and many others.  The festival took place in Johannesburg from 16 Feb to 15 March, 2008.

2009:    The FNB Dance Umbrella 2009 was the 21st edition and it took place from 25 February to 14 March 2009. The festival presented commissioned works from artists such as Boyzie Cekwana, PJ Sabbagha, Dada Masilo, and Gregory Maqoma. There were international works from France, Germany and Mozambique.

2010:    In 2010, the FNB Dance Umbrella presented commissioned works from Vincent Mantsoe, Nelisiwe Xaba, Musa Hlatshwayo, Sello Pesa, Thabo Rapoo Boyzie Cekwana and Jazzart Dance Theatre. Philip Stein Grant recipients were Mamela Nyamza and Mcebisi Bhayi. International companies included Eric Languet (La Reunion island) and Konexion Hip Hop Company from France. A series of Master Classes were presented by  Nigel Charnock (United Kingdom), and Ms Diane Ruttenberg (Israel/USA)
2011:    In 2011 we commissioned Lliane Loots to bring the Flatfoot Dance Company with a double-bill programme. Other outside companies included Qudus Onikeko from Nigeria. New South African work included Inhabitant b Sello Pesa, Shift by Mamela Nyamza, a work that is now touring internationally and a site-specific series of works that Alan Parker from Grahamstown did at all the venues.

2012:   This year was an extremely good one with important new works being created: Uncles and Angels by Nelisiwe Xaba and Mocke J Van Veuren; Exit/Exist by Gregory Maqoma that went on to the NAF; Caesar by Jay Pather that was presented at the old Stock Exchnage building,; Robyn Orlin’s Daddy was brought back to start the 25th anniversary season and Vincent Mantsoe premiered Opera fro Fools that was alos [presented at NAF. Dada Masilo premiered Death and the Maiden . Various Master clsses were facilitated.

2013:    We celebrated our 25th anniversary with a two week platform during Arts Alive 2013. In 2014 it was the last time we were part of the Arts Alive season with the festival returning to it usual time Feb/March 2015.
2014:   Was the final year as part of the Arts Alive International Festival. The programme ran for one week and included Stepping Stones, the South African premiere of a new work from Gregory Maqoma who collaborated with Spanish choreographer Roberto. Moya Michael, Sylvaine Strike in collaboration with PJ Sabbagha and Luyanda Sidiya completed the programme.  

2015:    In 2015 the Dance Umbrella celebrated 26 years. Featuring choreographers and companies from all over South Africa and beyond, this multi-disciplinary festival, presented work ranging from community-based/Youth groups, young up and coming choreographers, new commissioned work from South African artists to international companies.

2016:   The Dance Umbrella will take place from February 25 to March 12, 2016.
The Dance Umbrella has established itself as the main “stepping stone” for many South African choreographers who now work internationally. This includes people like Vincent Mantsoe, Robyn Orlin, Boyzie Cekwana and Gregory Maqoma.


Comments re festival:

 “ Annual gathering at Dance Umbrella reveals hidden gems” “ Business Day

“ Dynamic Dance Showcase: The Dance Umbrella = a showcase of southern African and International dance and choreography= is undoubtedly one of South Africa’s most important festivals, offering an opportunity to explore and develop all emergent dance forms”  Style

“ Dance Umbrella: Jumble of recycled aesthetics mixed with dance makers: What do you get when a South African musician, a Botswana visual artist and a Zimbabwean choreographer cross paths? A uniquely Southern African collaboration that puts politicians in the region to shame!” Star Tonight!