South African-born Germany-based dancer and choreographer Jessica Nupen explores in her work politics of the body in the arts. She is inspired by transformation and the complex realities of wide-ranging socio-political challenges faced by younger generations. Reflecting these complex realities with satirical undertones and a blatantly honest perspective, Jessica has attained international acclaim and the reputation ‘dance disruptor’. Having trained professionally in London and performing internationally, her pieces incorporate contemporary concepts with cultural and political themes, expressed in striking creations.
Jessica grew up in Johannesburg where, as a young girl, she was exposed to the harsh brutalities of racism and the oppressiveness inflicted by a minority in power. The anti-apartheid activities of her parents allowed her to observe first-hand the enforced silence – and later the abject anger – of the black majority. These memories and experiences have had a profound impact on the way that she sees and interprets the world around her. And it is these interactions with the broader society that has led her to explore the effects and impact of gender, identity, tradition and power on people.
Her integration of diverse media and collaboration with a range of respected artists sees in her work the expression of an eclectic choreographic vocabulary as she investigates a certain theatrical reality. Her pieces have received national and international recognition through celebrated tours of Europe, the US and South Africa, ably supported by artists including Spoek Mathambo, Jürgen Schadeberg, Dan Halter, Philip Miller, Peter Konwitschny, Anmari Honiball, Leila El-Kayem and William Kentridge.
Jessica completed her professional training in London at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance and has danced in Covent Garden, the National Theater of Mannheim and the State Theatres of Giessen, Lübeck and Berlin, and currently produces her work in Germany and South Africa. Her works have been performed in Kampnagel, Deutsches Theater Munich, Theater Dortmund as well as the eigenarten and Hauptsache Frei Festivals in Hamburg, Osnabrück, Mainz as part of an African Female Arts collective, and most recently alongside dance greats such as Emio Greco and Ohad Naharin at the Italian premiere of her internationally acclaimed work REBELLION & JOHANNESBURG at the International Oriente Occidente Dance Festival in Rovereto in September 2016. She opened the 2016 South African Dance Umbrella Festival with REBELLION & JOHANNESBURG partnering with various local and international artistic and cultural institutions.
Film is an integral element in Nupen’s work, whether through projection or artistic direction and choreography. Her latest film REBELLION & JOHANNESBURG is based on the original dance piece and was produced in collaboration with Berlin-based creative agency: The Adventures Of. The film examines and contrasts post-apartheid South Africa with post-GDR Germany and won Best Short Film at the San Francisco Dance Film Festival in October 2016. The film screened most recently at the POOL International dance Film Festival in Berlin in September 2016.
Jessica latest dance-theatre work THE LIONS celebrated its World Premiere in August 2016 performing at Lichthof Theater in October and most recently at the award-winning resonanzraum in the St. Pauli Bunker. The piece interrogates the appropriation and counterculture spirit of her generation, known for mastering the art of improvisation and rejecting hierarchies. Looking beyond traditional spaces and theories of race and cultural appropriation she investigates the textures of identity and hybridity, vandalising the notion of the ‘true self’.
In October 2016 Jessica was invited to the RODEO Dance and Theatre Festival Munich as an ‘outside eye’ to oversee and and discuss creative ways of international inclusion the annual festival partnering with the Goethe Institute. Here she participated in a capsule residency with Anna-Winde Hertling and Tanztendenz.
Extending her work in the arts, Jessica has provided the key-note address at the Women in Business conference in Frankfurt (2015) appointed by the late former Ambassador Makhenkesi Stofile, and has performed and lectured at the NOUS platform for Female African Artists in Mainz. She has been a panel speaker at international dance festivals in Europe, African and European political podium discussions, diplomatic conferences in Germany and was named one of the top 100 most influential Africans in Germany in 2015/2016. She also recently worked closely with theater legend Peter Konwitschny choreographing for his opera Attila which premiered in Lübeck in May 2016.
She is a co-director of the South African Ilanga Festival and is the founder and director of the Sukuma Foundation, developing and empowering young dancers from previously disadvantaged backgrounds in South Africa. The foundation’s pilot development project ‘Dance Alexandra’ works with local dance practitioners in Johannesburg offering free and accessible dance training in Alexandra Township. Jessica also teaches dance at the Joop van den Ende Academy in Hamburg, and conducts masterclasses in dance-theatre, choreography and contemporary technique.