Jiva! a South African slang term, meaning ‘dance’, is the newest South African original series to come to Netflix. The series takes us into the world of competitive dance through the eyes and experiences of ‘Ntombi’, and her friends, as they join forces to compete in a street dance competition worth millions of Rand.

In this interview with stars Noxolo Dlamini and Candice Modiselle, who play Ntombi and Vuyiswa, respectively, the two share their thoughts on the themes explored throughout the series, their characters, friendship and the beauty that is dance!
–NNEOMA EKWEGH

jiva

 

Tell us about Jiva! in five words.
Noxolo: Jiva! is passion, love, freedom, expression and joy!

What was it about Ntombi’s story and the journey that resonated with you?

 

Noxolo: Playing Ntombi was up and down, left and right, a mix masala (melting pot); much like what real life is. We are all fighting for something in our lives, fighting to live out our dreams, and Ntombi is simply striving for that – to live out her dreams. As an artist, I fully understand and respect Ntombi’s journey and I get everything that she is
going through.

And Candice, how about you? What was it about Vuyiswa’s story and the journey that resonated with you?

 

Candice: I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to play Vuyiswa on a platform as great and extraordinary as this one, because it allowed me to expand my range as a performer and as an actress. I can relate to her constant yearning for better and having to take the road less travelled. It was imperative that I played her in a way that was extremely human, so many people could see their lives reflected in her own, [and] experience her without judgment.

Both these characters embody an interesting balance between simplicity and complexity. How did you go about finding and understanding how best to portray their nuances?

Candice: Balancing out the nuances of who Ntombi and Vuyiswa are and fleshing out that dynamic was almost organic, simply because Noxolo and I are experienced and seasoned performers [who] believe in the power of play. We rooted a lot of our scenes in just being honest and authentic.

Noxolo: Understanding our roles in the friendship and understanding our characters’ personal journeys already created such beautiful shades and contrasts in the relationship. The relationship may seem confusing until it’s understandable. They seem so different, but they are more similar than we realise.

 

Let’s stray a bit, if you could be any of the other characters in Jiva! for a day, which character would you be and why?

Noxolo: [It would still be] Ntombi. We see so many different sides to her and being given that task is so exciting for an actor. I get to interact with most of the other characters. We see how she navigates her way around these different people and how she alters her personality in different spaces.

Candice: I would love to step into the shoes of Makeke. He is so layered and there is something mysterious, but conniving but vulnerable of who Makeke has the potential to be and to explore the layers of who that is will be such a joy ride and I think a very insightful experience. We are all still dealing with the presence of the pandemic, which must have thrown a spanner in the works during filming. In

In what ways did the pandemic affect pre- production and the show’s release?

Candice: The filming of Jiva! took a completely different turn when the pandemic hit. However, we acknowledged the responsibility we had as a production. In the initial stages, the shooting process was quite daunting. We were used to proximity; I mean in a dance series we are used to the closeness and the vibrancy when there are many bodies there. Finding the ebb and flow was at first difficult but we managed and we have a product to show for it and I am grateful for that.

Noxolo: The number of people on set needed to be reduced and we were all – cast and crew – put in a bubble for the remaining shoot weeks. We all stayed in one hotel and our movement was limited and guarded. We were also required to get tested once a week. Yiiiiip, the nose!

Still on the pandemic, going forward, what valuable lessons would you say it has taught filmmakers, actors in Africa and across the world?

Noxolo: I think it has taught everyone to respect time. The time we have to prepare and shoot. With covid there are more expenses, and a positive case means putting a halt to production, which means more time and money.

Candice: Keeping the pandemic in mind, I think that storytelling has evolved in such a way that we as a collective industry need to be both flexible and open. Flexible in a way that anything can happen at any given moment and unfortunately you will run into circumstances that are beyond your control and so, how do you adapt to these circumstances. And open in a way that we are giving ourselves and each other an opportunity to learn from these
changes that we cannot control. Jiva! explores the pursuit of passion. Vuvu pursued her passion for a comfortable lifestyle – perhaps at all costs, Ntombi found herself at odds with her mother because she embraced her passion against her mother’s call for “better judgment”.

Have you ever been in a situation where it seemed passion compelled you to follow in spite of contrary opinions, and how did you handle or navigate that dilemma?

Noxolo: I’m extremely blessed to have a family that is supportive of my dreams. They’ve always seen the direction I was heading in and I’ve always known the path I wanted to take. Like any parent, my mother did worry slightly about the choice I was making as she did feel it may not be a sustainable career, but she then realised that this was always the plan and there was no plan B. Their never-ending support has carried me through my many ups and downs. They give me confidence!

Candice: I previously mentioned that taking the road less travelled is one that I can identify with, not only in Vuyiswa’s life but also one thing that in retrospect I can celebrate in my own life. Being a young black woman that affirms herself as a storyteller isn’t always easy. I have trusted the process, no matter how difficult it has been, I have been as prayerful, as faith-driven and as God-loving and fearing as I am, I have been consistent in the journey. So, I am extremely grateful that even with the fears, doubts and apprehensions, I took the plunge and now, I am on a Netflix series!

 

We’re in a new age of music and dance in popular culture and the impact seems to be consistently on the rise. And now, we get to see that reflected in this series. Do you think this could be the beginning of the dance genre taking over in African film and TV?

Noxolo: I definitely see it flourishing. Music and dance are such integral parts of African culture. As Africans we enjoy one another’s music and dance too, and this can be seen with the many artist collaborations that happen within Africa, not just recently. South African dance and music has also become really popular on the continent with our African brothers and sisters.

Candice: Jiva! could not have come at a more suitable time, and I say this because dance culture has evolved in a way many people could not have anticipated, through the boom of amapiano, and how TikTok has created global communities of movement, dance music and just curation of culture. So I am extremely excited because this culture is infectious and it is palpable and it is inclusive.

Was there anything about this experience of portraying dance in film that surprised you even though you have prior experience with dance?

Candice: The experience of Jiva! came with anewness and a fresh outlook on dance. I am very unfamiliar with this style of dance and it took a great deal of training and commitment to the process to stretch my range and allow myself to explore uncharted waters. My experience in dance comes from contemporary, theatre and movement studies. The commercial world of dance is something I have somewhat stayed away from, but I am glad this project pulled me in.

Noxolo: Besides the fact that you will do it over and over again and then never do it again, nothing really surprised me. What I absolutely loved was having the camera dances with you, or you dance with the camera. It feels as if the audience is moving with you and it looks so incredible. The power of friendship is forefront in the series, and an important aspect of that is how much of the women’s lives are given attention and fleshed out. We get to see and appreciate the complexities of these characters and thus their friendships.

How important is depicting the fullness of friendships in film/television?

Noxolo: It is extremely important, so that we can seethe dynamic of the relationship. It is so beautiful to watch a comfortable and organic friendship on screen, especially when each actor understands what their character is meant to bring. What it also does is that it brings the audience into the story through these relationships. It makes the audience feel comfortable and included.

Candice: It is important to note that before the audience sees Ntombi and Vuyiswa as friends, they are two black women navigating their way through life, exercising and exploring their autonomy. We don’t get to see strong black leads often enough incinema, and a lot of the time the protagonist of the story is viewed through the male lens. The focus is a lot more on desirability and whatever aesthetic ideals a character should fulfill when in actual fact the sentiment and the core of all these women and how they are trying to assert themselves in life is what is the primary narrative here. To look at the dynamic between two friends who are opposing whatever odds they face as a collective and in their individual lives, is such a great thing for other women to see and I am so proud to be a part of work, where we get to see that.

Focusing on Ntombi and Vuyiwa’s friendship, what would you say made that bond sturdy in spite of their many perceived differences?

Candice: The differences between Vuyiswa and Ntombi are undeniable, how they approach life and how they approach their challenges are very different. But what holds them together, and how they see each other is what grounds their friendship. Irrespective of the circumstances, they know each other through and through, they know
the core of who they are.

Noxolo: I think their genuine love and respect for one another. They are very honest with each other, and they both know that the other, no matter what, comes with pure intentions. Being together also reminds them of where they come from as friends, but also as individuals. They ground each other.

Let’s discuss the relationship between Ntombi and her ex, Nathi. I actually found it refreshing that the betrayal did not come from another woman, but a man. Ntombi was paralysed by that betrayal until she realised her need to thrive in spite of it. Talk about that turning point where she ‘sees the light’?

Noxolo: Ntombi realises that she still deserves the dreams she had with Nathi. He is living “their”dream; therefore it is definitely possible for her to do it on her own. She remembers just how close she came to living those dreams and how that ended instantly. I also think that seeing Nathi revives the passion, confidence and fighting spirit within her. She sees the challenge and she doesn’t back down.

There are choices made by characters in the series. For Ntombi the choice was self; she had spent a lot of time being everything to everyone, thereby overlooking herself. As women we tend to be taught (or perhaps some naturally are) self-sacrificing at the expense of our own needs. In what ways do you protect‘self’ and ensure that your ‘person’
(wants, dreams, goals) is not lost in any relationship.

Noxolo: I surround myself with people who believe in my goals like I do and support me. I also have a lot of alone time, where I can go back to self and figure things out. I never let any relationship hinder the relationship I have with myself. That is my strongest relationship.

Candice: Firstly thank you for acknowledging this, because many women are still in the process of unlearning the social conditioning that many of us have been subjected to, in the way that we are not aware that pacifying our emotions and stifling and invalidating our needs is a form of self betrayal. And it is one thing I still very much am coming to terms with and because it is a state of unlearning, it is a continuous process of checking in and being
honest with myself through mindfulness and meditation. I am always able to check in on the things I need, the things I want, what they mean for me, and how they feed into my purpose.

What is the conversation you desire Jiva! to start, or change?

Noxolo: I would like Jiva! To start the conversation of just how much talent South Africa has. How many stories still need to be written and told, because we have so much to give as a people. I would also like it to start the conversation of artists constantly working on themselves and their crafts. Never becoming complacent and getting comfortable with just being good, but constantly striving to be better, therefore adding more value to their work.

Candice: Of the many conversations I am excited that Jiva! will ignite globally, one of them is the importance of having women leads that are autonomous beings, women that are the architect of their narrative because our voices have been drowned out for too long, we are multi-faceted beings and we are layered with stories to tell and we are valid. And I am grateful that Jiva! will be a space that will reflect that.

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