The heritage of the Modjadji rain queen goes beyond their region, but it is in locales like Modjadji, Nkowankowa, Lenyenye, Khujwana and up towards Lephabane that this culture reigns supreme.
It is not important that some of these townships and villages do not necessarily bow to the rain queen; she is always considered with admiration.
During the Balobedu’s traditional ceremonies, great rhythm and song are woven through proceedings as people attempt to connect with the divine. Choreographer Paul Modjadji comes from from this proud lineage and hopes to achieve similar grandeur in the world of modern dance. Already a lauded performer and choreographer on Western stages, Modjadji has had to work hard to convince his compatriots.
Consider Modjadji’s CV: Global Young Leaders Award from the Washington, DC-based Global Youth Leadership Congress; first African dancer to be crowned world champion solo jazz dancer at the European Star Dance Union world tournament; crowned top adult dancer at the 40th Annual Talent Showcase in New York 2013; lead dancer in Nick Boje’s Halakem and Columbine at Denmark’s Tivoli Theatre – and the list goes on …
For Modjadji, working in dance was not a matter of choice.
“Dance for me was a calling,” Modjadji says.
“I have been doing it all along, I was drawn to the arts as a kid; there wasn’t one particular moment that steered me towards this path as a career. But things took a very serious turn when I studied in Denmark, because that alerted me to how big the dance community in the world is.”
To be fair, South African companies are waking up to Modjadji’s prowess, and he has recently choreographed the Gauteng Sports Awards, among other notable achievements on South African stages. It was not always like this.
“I experienced my first wave of depression here at homewhen doors were closed to me despite my international accolades,” recalls Modjadji.
“There were a lot of international opportunities available, but I wanted to serve here at home. I had to soldier on because I believe that, more than anything, my mark has to be made here in Africa. So I have had to push on and be excellent in everything I do. It is challenging because sometimes we are set in our ways here at home and do not easily adapt to change or new voices.”
Modjadji was trained in ballet, jazz and contemporary dance and later added hip-hop and kwaito to his repertoire.
His core focus when conceptualising a dance piece is always on the story.
“The story is a vital component of any dance piece I do because I am a message person,” Modjadji says.
“Whether it is a music video or a film, the story is very important to me. I consider the story I want to tell very carefully, and I connect that to a feeling and make sure it is communicated.
“What are the steps saying and what kind of emotions are they evoking? I struggle with abstract art, because I like to focus on the message.”