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Orlin dances from ‘irritation’ to accolade at Naledis

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Internationally renowned South African dancer and choreographer Robyn Orlin was awarded the coveted Dawn Lindberg World Impact Award at the recent 19th annual Naledi Theatre Awards.

Orlin was one of a few Jewish personalities acknowledged on 21 May for their hard work in the world of theatre. Actress Talia Kodesh was another, winning her first Naledi for Best Lead Actress in a Musical Theatre Production for her role in the new original musical, Actress, which she co-wrote with Bruce Dennill.

Orlin, who has been working as a professional dancer for 46 years, said she was honoured to be recognised by her South African contemporaries.

“It’s interesting because I was very much just an irritation in the dance world in South Africa because I challenged it politically quite a lot,” Orlin told the SA Jewish Report this week. “And so, I never really got anything, any acknowledgement from the dance world, or from South Africa, quite frankly, until the past few years. Although, of course, there were individuals who encouraged me, as well as Dance Umbrella, which was a very important platform for me in South Africa because there really was nothing else.”

Orlin has studied around the world at institutions such as the London Contemporary Dance School, Goldsmiths University, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Some of her most popular works include Daddy, I’ve seen this piece six times before and I still do not know why they’re hurting each other (1999); When I take off My Skin (2005); At the same time we were pointing a finger at you, we realized we were pointing three at ourselves (2014); and We must eat our suckers with the wrappers on (2023).

She has lived in Germany for the past 23 years and was unable to attend the award ceremony, but had her friend, Gerard Bester, accept the award on her behalf.

“All my work is about South Africa and the political structures that have been in our way,” said Orlin. “Johannesburg is my place. It’s where I was born. And I sincerely hope South Africa finds its feet again. It’s daunting what’s happening at the moment. It’s very sad. This wasn’t what we fought for in the time of apartheid. We fought for something much more accessible and for the people.”

Kodesh said she attended the Naledi Awards for the first time in 2006, when she was invited to perform No One But You from We Will Rock You, in which she was starring at the time. “It was quite overwhelming, being young and nobody really knowing who you are,” she said. “I remember being extremely nervous and star-struck that there I was walking out onto the stage as somewhat of a newcomer and performing to these massive names in the industry.”

Kodesh was then nominated for Best Performance in a Musical in 2008, for her performance as Belle in Beauty and the Beast. But it was only this year that she got the nod nationally from her peers. As well as receiving her award, she performed one of the original songs, I’m Here, from Actress on the night of the awards. “It feels like things have come full circle in a way,” she said, regarding the opportunity to perform at the ceremony 18 years after her first appearance.

Because Actress had such a short run, many in the audience and the industry didn’t get to watch the show, she said. “So, I felt proud to be flying the flag of Bruce Dennill and Paul Elliot’s compositions and arrangements as well as their combined musical direction.

“I’m just so lucky that people came to see the show,” she said. “That’s huge, because nobody forces anyone to go and see any show. It was lovely to be supported by the Jewish community and, let’s be honest, it knows how to spread the word quickly. That meant I had an audience to perform to every night, and I could hone my skills and then be nominated for this incredible award.”

The National Children’s Theatre’s production of The Hobbit, directed by Alan Swerdlow, won Best Production for Children and Young Audiences. Moira Katz, the former chief executive of The National Children’s Theatre, accepted the award on the evening.

Vincent, produced by Daphne Kuhn, took home Best Cabaret/Revue/Small-Scale Musical Production. The show received other accolades such as Best Lead Actor in a Musical, awarded to Daniel Anderson.

“It’s thrilling that so many Jewish artists not only partake in the industry but have thrived and made such a contribution,” said Kuhn. “It was a beautiful evening, and it represented the talent in our country like never before with lovely acts, but most of all, a kind of acknowledgement of future excellence.”

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