Via Volcanoby Rob Scher / Images by Sydelle Willow Smith / 23.05.2013
Visiting Krugersdorp for the first time is like taking a trip through time to the the old Transvaal. Our connection to the crew, William, said he’d meet us by the Krugersdorp Museum in a white bakkie. It doesn’t help that every second vehicle is a white bakkie. Luckily there’s only one museum.
We find him and he beckons us to follow. We try and keep up, not wanting to lose ourselves to the West Rand. A large concrete sign marks our arrival, ‘Welcome to Kagiso’. Tswana for peace, the empty streets, live up to their name on this Monday morning. “We’re here,” says William, pulling over in front of a face brick wall, almost entirely unremarkable in a whole street of face brick walls.
The orange tinted windows colour the light like Fanta. Via Volcano are the pioneers of the innovated pantsula form they call ‘tapsula’. They’re all seated, sipping coffee in the orange glow as we enter their headquarters. “We practically live here,” says Elvin, while his fellow crew members take their seats on an assortment of beer crates, which later double as props in their routine. “Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm, this is our home.” There’s no mistaking that. Posters of the shows the crew have performed over the years decorate the walls and a trophy cabinet sits in a corner, proudly displaying the efforts of a successful career in shiny brass, plastic, ebony and ribbons.
“When you say you dance ispantsula in the townships, they would say you’re a hooligan. So we decided to screw taps into our shoes and show them, there’s more to pantsula than you think.” Explains Elvin. “Well, we actually glued them at first, but they kept falling off,” corrects Elrich, Elvin’s identical twin.
Via Volcano, formed by William and his friend Sphiwe back in 1994, was created to encourage dancing in the Kagiso community. Almost two decades later with a group that’s grown to over 30, they’re still working within the community trying to spread the performing arts. “When we came up with the name we thought of something strong and unstoppable. What’s more unstoppable than a volcano?”
The core of the crew as it stands today, got together back in 2001. But it took until 2005 for things to finally galvanise for the Volcanoes. “That year we won the Gauteng Dance Showcase. We were chosen to represent Gauteng in a series of workshops which led to us being chosen to go to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown,” recalls Elvin. The impact of this exposure completely changed the face of Via Volcano. “It was the first time we were exposed to choreography – we learnt so much. After that, we returned the following year with our own production – Ayashisa Amateki.” He adds.
We break as the crew readies themselves for a display of what differentiates them from being just another pantsula crew. Apart from tapping, it’s clear Via Volcano have broken the boundaries of any specifically defined dance style. It’s a powerful show of movement, at times borrowing elements from Michael Flatley, but with a whistle and the squeak of converse shoes bringing it back to the pantsula roots. It’s clear these guys have moved far beyond Kagiso – all the way to China, in fact.
“Yes, we toured four cities in China. That was the first time they saw panstula that side.” Says Elvin. “They actually asked for us to close the festival. To be the last act is considered an honour there. It was very special for us.” The crew returns to their crates. Since China, the guys have toured Europe but have had to turn down offers to travel to the Unites States due to funding issues. It’s a constant refrain in the Mzansi dance world: never enough money to match the opportunities.
But there’s no feeling sorry for themselves at the Via Volcano crew. What do they do when they’re not rehearsing for a show or honing a routine for a competition? “When there’s peace, we prepare for war. That’s how you become number 1.” Elvin answers, delivering his Sun Tzu wisdom.
With such a track record, including twice being named Gauteng Mapantsula Kings, the one thing the Volcanoes don’t lack is confidence. “Last year we attended the Beat Battle finals and watched. We knew then we’d be able to get to the finals the following year. If anyone’s going to take the title from the Reptilez it’s going to be us!” Says Elvin. “Just look at our trophy cabinet.” He points to the corner. “It’s full.”
“We’re going to have to buy a new one soon,” adds Elrich.
* All images © Sydelle Willow Smith