If there’s one thing South Africans love to do, it’s dance. From the vosho to the gwarra gwarra, we are, undeniably, a dancing nation. So when Netflix commissioned its next local series, Jiva!, a dramatic and endearing story about South African dance, it felt as if the time had come to share our story with the world.
The blockbuster production made its way to the red streaming platform in the final days of June 2021 and the reaction to SA’s latest Netflix Original was electric. From the dramatic storyline to the breathtaking visuals, the story captured our hearts and minds but of course, it was the energetic dance sequences which took center stage.
Jiva! Tells the story of Ntombi, a young dancer from Umlazi, Durban, who is working a 9-to-5 in order to support her family. Her body might be at work but her mind and heart live on the grand stage, where she hopes to become Mzansi’s next big dance sensation. Ntombi finds herself recruiting her friend ___, as well as two other talented groovers to her crew as they look to win a R1million cash prize at a big dance competition.
We had the pleasure of speaking to Ntombi and Candice, best friends on the series and talented co-stars in real life, about their roles, the story and of course, the importance of putting South African dance on the world map.
Jiva! – A South African dance story
The country and the world finally got to see your new production, Jiva! I know a lot went into this particular story. How does it feel to finally have it out there?
Noxolo: I am … a lot of things! Excited, nervous but more than anything i’m relieved! I’m relieved that it’s actually happening and now we get to share this beautiful story and the ups, downs, fun and anxiety we’ve all gone through. We now get to share it with the world and that’s a tremendous feeling.
It feels like this is it. The moment has finally come. From our auditions when we had no idea who these characters were, then getting to know them and sitting with them and finally actually introducing the Netflix community to these characters. I am grateful that it is actually happening and it’s not just something we’re hearing about.
It’s great to see big-budget African stories told on Netflix, a platform known for its sublime visuals. What kind of visual journey can South Africans expect when they watch Jiva! For the first time?
Candice: There are plenty of things that I can speak to. It’s an exceptional body of work from a narrative perspective, but it’s also aesthetically outstanding. It’s a rainbow of pleasure! It’s something people will enjoy and immerse themselves in this story for sure.
One thing people don’t understand is that it’s also an introduction of talents that you wouldn’t have seen on your screen before. I really commend the casting directors, and also commend every single individual who was able to step outside of themselves and just deliver a performance on another level altogether. There are lots of new faces to appreciate, including those who are new to acting altogether and those who are not known to the greater public. At a time when the calls are there to #OpenUpTheIndustry, Jiva! did just that.
You are no stranger to the camera but you’re also a gifted stage/theater performer. This show is a very performance-driven production. We get to see people move, see them express themselves with their body. What excited you the most about your role in Jiva!?
Noxolo: Everything about it, honestly. Getting to tell a South African story, which isn’t something I always get to do besides Sarafina (which was absolutely incredible). To be able to use every part of my talent and be challenged and be pushed to grow in all directions, it’s something i lovd about it. Also, this is a genre of dance I wasn’t too familiar with and I really love a challenge. I love learning new things about my work and it always results in me adding to my bag of skills and things that I can add to in my life.
Candice, How did it feel to work with your sister who was one of the lead choreographers on this project? Did she take it easy on you or did you prefer working with other choreographers?
Candice: To be quite honest I preferred to work with the other choreographers – JOKES!
Honestly, without a shadow of a doubt she’s excellent. For me, I had to climb out of my comfort zone and overcome some of my insecurities around this role, I was focused on forging and creating my own identity as a performer. I had to trust my innate gifts and my talents, but also allow her as the master to assist me to be the piece. She would push me in all kinds of directions and I can confidently say she was extremely tough on me. She was tough on all of us! I’d be rehearsing a sequence and she’d tell me “Do it again. From the top”. And again. And again. She demands the highest standards of herself and those working with her and the production won as a result.
Can I also say, there are many dancers and choreographers whose contributions to this production were absolutely invaluable. Honestly it wouldn’t have been the same production without them and they are a key part of why the story is as excellent as it is – please can we give them some praise and mention.
We know how amazing South African dance is. Our dance moves have gone viral, they have been “stolen” by people who didn’t give us the credit we were due, and they have gone international. Do you believe that Jiva! Will finally help the world put some respect on South African dance?
Noxolo: You need to give credit where it’s due. It’s unfortunate to see our work being displayed all around the world without being fairly credited for it. Our moves are known everywhere. From the gwara gwara, to pantsula and so many more. The moment you take from us and not credit us, it’s disrespectful.
I believe Jiva! Is going to go a long way towards correcting that. Basically, we want people to understand that when you adopt South African dance moves, credit the people! There are so many Tik Tok dancers biting South African moves and not revealing where they originated. That’s not okay. I’m hoping and I believe Jiva! Is going to help us, respectfully, take ownership of what’s ours. You can borrow it, but you don’t just take without credit.
We spoke about how incredible the visuals usually are for a Netflix production and the location is often a big part of that. Jiva! Is set in the beautiful city of Durban, is the location also a key character in this particular story?
Candice: What is incredible about that, and kudos to everybody who played a role in this story, we get to view South Africa outside of the Euro-centric lens. A lot of times people are not even aware of the fact that Africa is a continent, not just one big country.
This piece of content shows that this is actually who we are and in 2021 this is what we look like. Not the typical, caricatures that we have gotten used to seeing. And it’s not this utopian, fictional idea that is inspired by Africa. Instead, it’s the real South Africa. We actually have skyscrapers, we are modern, there aren’t any lions roaming around the streets. The costumes, make up, hair, location and every single aspect of this show lends itself to this vibrant portrayal of the real South Africa.
Look out for Part 2 of our Jiva! Takeover where we speak to fellow co-stars, Zazi Kunene and Stella Dlangalala about how the production ALMOST didn’t happen! Jiva! Is an South African Netflix Original series and is available for streaming on Netflix today. Sign up for a 30-day free trial to start watching!