Inside The Ingenious Mind Of “JIVA!” Lead Noxolo Dlamini
After premiere day, Netflix‘s South African street dance series JIVA! shimmied its way to the top as the most-watched show in the country, basking in its international glamour. Pivotal to the show’s success is its energetic cast, most palpably felt from promising South African actress and dancer Noxolo Dlamini in a feisty, go-for-broke portrayal of the main character Ntombi. While coping with the daily struggles of a suppressed dream and providing for her family, Ntombi enters a dance contest that injects some much-needed excitement into her life.
JIVA! is a huge television breakthrough for 27-year-old Noxolo who has been nurturing a love for acting, singing and dancing since childhood. Her schooling provided the groundwork for her passions. She joined the dance and drama club at The National School of the Arts for Dramatic Art, in Johannesburg where her first dance lesson was learning the Spanish flamenco. But her heart, she recalls, was really in theatre.
She would later leave the school owing to its competitive nature, enrolling in Dominican Convent School, also in Johannesburg, where she continued with drama and took ballet classes for the first time, besides just imitating what she saw. It was at this school where she thrived because, here, no one was competing with anyone. At the University of Pretoria, she gravitated towards theatre and graduated with a BA Degree in Dramatic Arts. It was also during her varsity days that she found herself enjoying more physical productions simply because they harnessed all her talents.
We caught up with the JIVA! star about landing the lead role, shooting the series during a pandemic and what the future holds for her.
“I don’t remember the audition process being long. I had initially auditioned for two other roles and not Ntombi,” recalls Noxolo Dlamini. Supplied
Talk us through your career and personal background.
I was born and raised in Johannesburg. I grew up in Soweto and loved performing for as long as I can remember. Before realising that I was entertaining people, I was actually entertaining myself. I absolutely loved singing and dancing in front of the mirror (I kinda still do to this day)!
Just before I graduated from the University of Pretoria, I got offered a job with The Lion King Musical West End in London and joined the company in 2015. A year later I came back to South Africa and landed the role of Sarafina in the Sarafina Musical, at the South African State Theatre in Pretoria. Later that year, I auditioned for The Lion King Musical once again — for the international tour this time around. I landed the role of Nala, which had always been a dream of mine. When I finished touring, I continued with my theatre work upon my return. I performed Nina Simone: Four Women at The Market Theatre for Black History Month and a few months later returned to the role of Sarafina in mid-2019 at The Joburg Theatre.
In October 2019, I landed my first television role in a popular South African telenovela Isibaya. A few months into my role, I auditioned for JIVA! and here we are today.
How did your journey into acting and dancing begin and what lessons have you picked up in this journey?
My journey with acting and dancing started at a very young age. I would be lying if I told you when exactly. My drama teacher Mrs. Gail Martell was extremely supportive. She took me under her wing and guided me until I left primary school. I have a long theatre background and it has taught me discipline — for my work and for myself.
I respect the art; in that I know and understand the work that goes into creating the final product. The real work is in the rehearsals and preparation, and I carry that even in television and film now. I’ve also learned that it is not enough to just be able to act but acquiring many other skills sets you apart from the rest. It also teaches you to stay ready.
“I’ve also learned that it is not enough to just be able to act, but acquiring many other skills sets you apart from the rest. It also teaches you to stay ready.”
How did you receive the news that you would be playing the main character Ntombi?
I don’t remember the process being long. I had initially auditioned for two other roles and not Ntombi. I got a call back for Zinhle and I think everything kind of changed there. A few days after my call back I got a call from my agent telling me that they wanted to see me for Ntombi. It was all very unexpected. I wasn’t in town at the time, so I was asked to send a self-tape. I guess they really liked it because a few days later, I received a call from my agent telling me that they would like to offer me the role.
Ntombi was a flawed character navigating money anxieties and wanting to pursue her dream in dancing. Which of her qualities did you connect with the most?
The fact that she is so loyal is admirable, but I think what I like the most is the process she is in. She is trying to find herself, all while fighting for her dream. I connect with her love for family and dance.
Would you say that playing Ntombi enriched your acting experience?
I believe that every character and experience stretches me and makes me a better actor — and sometimes even a better person. Playing Ntombi has really taught me to take up my spotlight, unapologetically. She is fighting to get her moment in that light, and she deserves all the great things she sets her mind on.
Soweto-born Noxolo Dlamini started nurturing her acting, singing and dancing talents from a young age. Supplied
A huge television production like JIVA! must have presented some production challenges, especially in this unrelenting time of coronavirus. What were some of these challenges and how were they surmounted?The biggest challenge was that we had everyone spread out and living in their own homes. That was risky, in that we were always in contact with other people who were not in the production. Therefore, we had to all be put in a bubble. For a couple of weeks, we all lived in the same hotel, and no one could come in or go out of the bubble until we had finished shooting. We were also required to test weekly to ensure that we all continued to be safe.
On set, we were only allowed a certain number of people. The crowded scenes needed to be shot in a way that alluded to there being a crowd and the camera team did a great job on that.
What was your memorable behind-the-scenes moment on JIVA!?
It definitely has to be the family and the trust we created amongst each other.
What do you mostly look forward to in your career?
To continue this incredible journey — work with actors I used to dream of starring alongside and to tell stories that are moving as well as entertaining. I’d also love to see more of the world while working!
“I believe that every character and experience stretches me and makes me a better actor — and sometimes even a better person.”
What is the most exciting thing happening in your life right now?
My future coming together and of course JIVA! [chuckles].
The pandemic has impacted most people’s wellbeing in one way or another. What has held you together throughout?
I’m blessed to have a great support system, my family. Being home with them makes me feel like everything is alright. I enjoy exercising and keeping active — it clears my mind and makes me lighter and calmer.
“Playing Ntombi has really taught me to take up my spotlight, unapologetically,” says Noxolo Dlamini. Supplied
Off The Cuff
When it comes to your personality, what is the one thing your friends and family would unanimously agree on?
That I am very loud and I love to sing, but I also enjoy my own space.
What food could you never tire of eating?
Popcorn, mango and watermelon.
What was the last African film/series that you watched?
JIVA! I know, right?!
If you were to give a stranger a tour of South Africa, where would you start?
KwaZulu-Natal for sure!
In mostly adjectives, what is Africa to you?
Africa is home, whole, rooted, spiritual, sacred and motherly.
If you were to take up a profession outside of entertainment, what would it be?
I’d be a sprinter, soccer player or choose to work with wildlife.