Jazzart is the oldest contemporary dance company in the Cape, if not Africa. It has been at the forefront of contemporary dance development administratively and artistically, within the context of democratic practice, serving marginalised communities in particular.
Sonje Mayo opened Jazzart in 1973 as a dance studio specialising in modern jazz dance. From inception, Jazzart welcomed dancers from across the racial spectrum - a factor that was to become increasingly important in later years given the nature of South Africa's political history.
Sue Parker took over in 1978 and established a small, professional ensemble named the Sue Parker Jazzart Contemporary Dance Company. The studio evolved into a sizeable contemporary jazz school and part-time company, which performed sporadically due to irregular funding. In 1982, Sue handed over to Val Steyn and the performance group was renamed the Jazzart Contemporary Dance Company.
By 1986, Alfred Hinkel had raised enough funds to buy the company, change its name to Jazzart Dance Theatre and take over its artistic directorship with Dawn Langdown, John Linden and Jay Pather providing the dancing, teaching and choreographic backbone. Under Alfred's direction, a philosophy of professional dance training and performance emerged that was inclusive and all-encompassing, recognising the socio-political and economic context of the students who wanted to be trained and the audiences that wanted to watch them.
In an era when professional dance theatre was the virtually exclusive domain of the ruling white elite, Alfred (and the team of people with whom he surrounded himself) was forging a teaching and performance ethos firmly based in the populist thinking of the South African political struggle. "A major achievement is that when Jazzart moves, there's no jarring distinction between race and gender. These are all South Africans totally in key with their Africanness and African dance's weight and dynamics," wrote Adrienne Sichel in The Star Tonight.
The Jazzart style has been described as being about trust and spatial risk. "We do what we do with women lifting men - why should it only be the other way round?" asked Alfred. "If you only work with recognition (as in the classics), it reaffirms the prejudice that that's the way it should be. If I can get the dancers to experience the shift, their audience will feel it too. Their duty is not to affirm but to challenge."