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Mamela Nyamza appointed deputy artistic director of the State Theatre

Acclaimed dancer, choreographer and gender activist Mamela Nyamza has been appointed deputy artistic director of the South African State Theatre.

Her primary responsibility will be providing creative and administrative support to SAST's Artistic Director, and comes at a time when the State Theatre is poised to take over the 30-year-old South African Dance Umbrella Festival.

Born and raised in Gugulethu, Cape Town, Mamela trained in a variety of styles of dance, including ballet, modern dance, African dance, the Horton technique, Spanish dance, jazz, movement and mime, flying low technique, release technique, gumboot dance and Butoh.

Known for blending styles in a way that challenges traditional standards, she has performed nationally and internationally and has choreographed autobiographical, political, and social pieces both on her own and in collaboration with other artists.

She draws inspiration from her daily life and her identity as a young, black woman. Mamela's abstract dance style allows her to use dance as a way to share both her own personal stories as well as African stories with the world.

Additionally, she has created various community outreach projects that have helped to spread the positive influence of dance to different communities within South Africa, including the University of Stellenbosch's Project Move 1524, a group that works to educate on issues relating to HIV/AIDS, domestic violence and drug abuse, through dance movement therapy.

Professional career

In her early career she performed in various major international musicals including The Lion King in Den Haag, Netherlands in 2004, We Will Rock You in South Africa in 2006 Africa and African Footprints.

Since 2006, Mamela has mainly focused on her own choreography, most of which deals with important political and social issues existing in modern-day South Africa. One of her best known choreographic pieces is Hatch. Hatch was choreographed in 2008, and has since been performed at the Out The Box Festival, the Baxter Dance Festival, and at the World Population Foundation.

Additionally, Mamela did informal studio performances of Hatch in Brazil and Vienna and at selected schools in the Eastern Cape, Durban and Cape Town and at the South African Domestic Violence conference in Johannesburg. She has also performed the piece in various shelters for abused women in the Netherlands Africa.

In 2009 Mamela was selected to be the South African representative to travel to Los, Angeles, United States and compete as one of eight countries and six different continents in Superstars of Dance - a show on the NBC television network. There she performed a tribal piece entitled Afro-fusion, which told the story of a woman deeply frustrated with her marriage and life. Although she did not win the show, the judges loved her piece and awarded her 58 points. Additionally, she was a choreographer for the American television show So You Think You Can Dance? in 2008.

In 2011 she was honoured with the Standard Bank Young Artist Award. Along with the other Standard Bank Young Artist Award winners, Mamela showcased her work at the 2011 National Arts Festival in South Africa. There she performed the pieces Isingqala and Amafongkong, which featured a solo work by Mamela and was a collaborative production with the Adugna Dance Theatre Company from Ethiopia.

She has also collaborated with UK-based artist, Mojisola Adebayo, to create I Stand Corrected. The powerful piece addresses issues of homophobia and rape that Mamela describes as "Dark, strange, witty and absurd". In it, Mamela is killed for being a lesbian, and is coming back to "correct herself".

The piece premiered in South Africa and successfully ran for three weeks at the Ovalhouse in London, where it was met with full houses and fantastic reviews. Additionally, I Stand Corrected received six Off West End Theatre nominations in London.

I Stand Corrected was also performed at the Soweto Theatre in South Africa. This was a major accomplishment for Mamela because of the difficulty she has experienced securing a spot in national theatres; "I have performed in Soweto, and because of that I'm the proudest artist ever".

Obtaining funding from South Africa has also proved to be a barrier for Nyamza. "It's sad that we still have to struggle for funding here at home, while internationally we don't even have to apply, we just get invited".

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