Dance performer and choreographer Jacki Job has performed for Nelson Mandela and the Dutch Royal family. One of Cape Town’s most diverse choreographers, she is particularly renowned for her Butoh-inspired work, a Japanese contemporary dance form. Since her return to Cape Town in 2011, Job has been commissioned to perform within various local and international cultural and academic contexts. In light of her latest role as choreographer for Cape Town Opera’s upcoming production of Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), we asked Job a few questions about her life, her inspirations and her thoughts on the dance industry in South Africa.
Please give us a brief biography of your life.
I’m from Cape Town, and my path has kind of been autodidactic. In the late 80s I started dancing with Jazzart (known then as CAPAB). It was a very different time as it was the height of Apartheid – before Jazzart had become a part of Artscape, and it was very anti-establishment. I left Jazzart in 1994 and have worked independently since then. I worked in London for a while. I would often have performances in South Africa then perform them in Germany, England and other places in Europe. I moved to Japan in 2003 and lived there for eight years and returned to Cape Town in 2011. Since 2011 I started documenting all my work and experiences academically. I have just submitted my Masters and it is basically based on my intercultural practice from the past years.
What made you choose dance?
Dance chose me!
Did you have any other prospective career paths? Or anything you have not done and would like to do?
I have always found the forensic sciences interesting and that’s why I really like the research part of dance. The whole academic thing really appeals to me – I always put a lot of thought into my concepts. I have always been intrigued by experimenting and dissecting and getting to the ‘essence’. I don’t have a great yearning to be doing anything else, so much as finding more lateral ways of expanding what I already do.
What are your influences?
I love so many things. Old people inspire me, young children inspire me and I think it’s because on either end of the spectrum the ego is not so big and precious. There is a lot of honesty, simplicity and a lot of directness.
Do you have any hidden talents or interests?
I’ve started to do aerial work and I’ve now got an aerial itch. If I see a rope or scarf hanging I have to climb it! I can’t resist it – I have to go up, I have to try something. That’s interesting, that somebody who couldn’t even do a somersault as a kid now wants to climb things and do tricks up in the air. I really enjoy that. Again it’s that lateral extension of dance. I find that my whole life is a choreography.
I like to run. Not sprinting, more long distance. But aerial is the skill I would like to develop… and the strength that goes with it. With aerial work if you let go, you fall. You don’t have many options when you are up there because there is only one way of doing things. Until now I have always thought there are so many ways of doing one thing, but aerial just turns that whole idea upside down.
What is your impression of South Africa’s dance industry? Where is it going right or wrong?
I think there is way too much focus on developing people and not enough on what they are developing into. There needs to be more focus on honing the skills of those who are already established. If you put too much focus on developing, where do those people go after that? There is not a lot of foresight.
Is it important to you how the audience reacts to your choreography?
I think it’s just important that they feel something! It should make sense if there are people who don’t like what I do and there are others who really like what I do. I don’t necessarily shape my work only for the audience but I am aware that there is an audience and I do want to share something with them so I do take them into consideration. But if they say jump 10 times I’m not necessarily going to do that because I am still who I am.
Has there ever been anything that has gone terrible wrong during a performance that still makes you laugh?
A good friend of mine was involved in a work that was chosen as part of a triple bill performance with two other companies. The director of the show came in to see our work and so it was all very important. For this performance we were all wearing boots with long laces that came up to just below the knee. And just before we had to start, there was a big palaver and everyone was nervous with everybody in the room. We were about to start when my friend said “Just a moment – itch”, and he had to unlace his boot, scratch his foot, lace the whole boot up again and then we could start. Nobody said a word. When I think about it now it’s very funny. He had to throw in a bit of drama.
Now that you are moving into the theatre industry, how does it differ from working with dancers?
Well when the opera singers come into the room they already know the script. There is a lot of preparation that gets done by singers.They can’t perform unless they know the script. Whereas dancers come in empty and everything has to be written on them. They don’t have an idea of what you are going to be doing, they don’t have certain steps in mind. They just arrive. For dancers, the preparation is doing class all the time and maintaining their bodies so that things can be written on them. That’s a big difference – not better or worse or anything, it’s just really a big difference.
Are you excited to be working with Cape Town Opera on The Marriage of Figaro?
I’m very excited! It’s going to be stunning. The visual is really beautiful and the voices are phenomenal. The first rehearsal was incredible with the conductor and everyone sitting down and singing, hearing each other for the first time and getting to know each other. The voices just blow you away.
Jacki Job was interviewed by Angeliki Theodorou on 26 September 2014