South Africans have been treated to another big-budget Netflix original production this winter, following the release of Jiva!, an energetic and engaging dance story told in the beautiful city of Durban.
Last week, leading ladies Noxolo Dlamini and Candice Modiselle spoke to us about their role in putting South African dance on the map and gave us a taste of life behind the scenes of the blockbuster dance series. The two were part of our #MoziakxJiva takeover where 5 of the shows biggest stars donned our latest cover.
However, what many South Africans still don’t know is the story behind the story of Jiva!. While many of us were notably excited for the release of the new series, many of the cast members were wondering if the story would see the light of day!
2020 was a difficult year for South Africa’s film and television scene, especially when the government imposed a nationwide lockdown. The timing of the lockdown couldn’t have been worse for this particular production as it fell right in the middle of their shooting schedule. This meant longer stays in hotels, more traveling to and from home, additional rehearsal time, and so many more inconvenient factors that threatened the very existence of this series.
This week we spoke to Stella Dlangalala and Zazi Kunene, two of the fresh faces on the cast of the Netflix Original series who opened up about the anxiety and fears that they, and other cast members felt during this unpredictable moment in time.
Stella and Zazi: How we shot Jiva! While surviving a pandemic
The mood right now is one of excitement because getting to this point (where the show is finally out) has been a long time coming! Can you tell us the story of 2020 as a Jiva! Cast member?
Stella: You have NO idea. That’s an understatement even. Its been a long time coming! The story of 2020 is a long but fast one. It felt long but it went by super quickly, simply because SO MUCH happened. So in the beginning we thought we’d be in and out. We thought it would just be a shoot, and we’d wrap up. But then Covid hit and everything had to shift. We went into lockdown for 3 months. After having started a good routine of shooting and rehearsing and the ball was rolling.
Now Covid hit and we had to go home! Going home meant we’re not sure if we will come back, and if we do come back will we have the same body? Will we be in shape? Then we did come back but there was still a lot of stop-start in our routines which is really difficult for a dance show because you need to keep your stamina and fitness up.
But in the end, it all worked out and came together beautifully and we are just glad, more than anything, that South Africa gets to see this story told in all its glory.
Were you nervous or anxious at one stage that, after all your hard work, this story might not see the light of day? How did you keep your mental health intact during this time?
Zazi: Absolutely! Especially when Covid first struck us, it was very scary for us because we knew we had such a great story to tell. We believed in it, we saw its beauty, but we were worried the world wouldn’t see it. I remember when Cyril, Uncle Cupcake, announced the first lockdown, it was scary I won’t lie. Because all of us are thinking “this is our big break, this is NETFLIX” and then to hear that it might not happen, is scary. Then on top of that you’re at home worrying if the production will come back. Then when it does come back you’re now working in a new way because Covid changed the way we work on set.
We had to be inserted into a bubble where we only interacted with cast and crew for some time. So there’s stress of doing things correctly, anxiety about the future of the production (will this all be worth it?) and then on top of all of that you’re fearing for your life because we’re still in the middle of a whole pandemic. It was truly, a lot. But throughout all of that we were there for one another. We were truly each other’s support structures, very much like a family, and I appreciated every single person for their role in helping us all stay mentally healthy.
After everything, after literally putting your lives on the line, it’s great to see that the story was still finally told. How did it feel to finally lay eyes on your masterpiece after all that you went through?
Stella: We couldn’t wait. I mean, we saw it before the whole country because we had to just remember where this story began because of just how much had happened. We had to refresh on the storyline and refresh our minds so we can engage you guys from an informed place.
But the most hyped moment was when we got to watch with our families and our friends, reacting to the series in real-time with the rest of the country, seeing it trend online – those were the moments we were all waiting for!
Let’s talk a bit about each of your characters. What kinds of personalities from Durban and specifically eMlazi inspired your characters?
Zazi: My character is Nolwazi. She’s a high-school character, she’s bubbly, fun, confident – she’s the popular girl at school! She’s very much a daddy’s girl and you’ll see, as the series goes along. I keep saying I wish I was more like Nolwazi when I was younger. When I was a child I had a stutter and it made me really shy. In grade 3-5 I ended up going for speech therapy because I wasn’t confident at all! But as soon as I trained my speech, I was far more confident in what I wanted to do in life. In high school I started acting in Varsity plays (while I was a grade 11!) which was huge for me, working with older people. So although I love my journey, I would have loved to have a bit more of Nolwazi in my life
And Stella we believe you play Lady E, what can you tell us about her role in the story?
Yes I play Lady E and she’s the one who is the glue in the group and keeps everything together. You won’t see a lot of her in season 1 but there’s definitely someone to look forward to should there definitely be a next season. She’s wonderful because she’s the kind of girl who hangs out with the gents, she’s not scared of them. Her experience with the Trolleys is a bit like “Uuuuh girls are so petty!” but she learns to open up and be a part of them in her own way. Her main thing is pantsula and Palesa, my choreographer was teaching me the lingo, the strut, the physicality of a pantsula.
This is a big moment for South African dance, what do you want the world to know about South African dance after this?
Stella: I want the world to know that we are a multi-faceted country. Dance is us, we are dance. Dance is something we use to heal, to celebrate, to praise. The world has been influenced by us, now we’re going to influence them even more. We’re not some suffering third world country, we are ABOUT THAT!
Zazi: I am excited about what’s going to happen. We’ve entered the digital realm as South Africa. I want the world to know we are a vibe, and it didn’t just start now. It’s just that, now the world is seeing what we are about and what we are doing. We’ve been about this but only now it’s going out into the world and we want them to know that they can collaborate with us, and we can do the most with ART!