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Deep Night

CN D - Centre national de la danse 2010 - Director : Denyschen, Jessica

Choreographer(s) : Sabbagha, PJ (South Africa)

Present in collection(s): Centre national de la danse

en fr

Deep Night

CN D - Centre national de la danse 2010 - Director : Denyschen, Jessica

Choreographer(s) : Sabbagha, PJ (South Africa)

Present in collection(s): Centre national de la danse

en fr

Deep Night

PJ Sabbagha is a South African choreographer who's name has become synonymous with issue based dance theatre and more specifically HIV and AIDS focused art.
The first performance of “Deep Night” took place on 3 December 2009 at the Newton Dance Factory (Johannesburg). The piece deals with the protests associated with World Aids Day, which is celebrated on 1 December. Centred on the realities of the HIV virus and AIDS, it expresses the experience of desire, intimacy and sexuality. For this work, the company voluntarily restricted the audience to the over 16s, a decision that the company Forgotten Angle - Theatre Collaborative (FATC) justified by “the implicit ambiguities of the show and the performance which could be misinterpreted by a young audience” [1].

To evoke lives affected by HIV or AIDS, PJ Sabbagha mixes audio-visual, dance and theatrical elements, in a stage set typical of Johannesburg's night life: “A night club backdrop, ragged strings of lights, an atmosphere reminiscent of the golden era of musicals, where people come to show off, to face off, to attract attention and to see and be seen, couples, groups and the lonely and lovesick. In the courtyard and garden, there are screens showing abstract motifs of a street at night or the sequence shot of a city animated by the random movements of the passers-by. There are shadows full of dancers, moving from break dance to big, unbalancing movements and to lively and tender duets, like glittering stars illuminating the night. By way of a disturbing leitmotiv, an air gun makes skirts fly up and pierces the eardrums. A recurring fact in daily life, a key accessory on stage.” [2].

In “Deep Night”, PJ Sabbagha evokes the life of a young woman, full desires and imagination, which turns to tragedy. Dada Masilo, portraying a young teenager affected by the disease, performs a solo that is remarkable in its intensity. The Johannesburg choreographer concentrates on the dramatic impact of the experience of the disease, from a personal point of view: “HIV and Aids are critical personal and social issues, which permeate all levels of our individual and communal existence, whether we know it or not ... This tiny, sophisticated virus permeates our minds, bodies and hearts, revealing the bleakest and most beautiful layers of our humanity.” [3] 

In 2010 and 2011, the piece was performed at dance festivals in Mali, Mozambique and Madagascar. The piece which followed it, entitled “One Night Stand”, was conceived in response to “Deep Night”: “There’s dialogue with “Deep Night”, but this one is not nightclubby at all. In our rehearsals we have spoken about how our lives are infected every day. About taking risks. How to transfer a thought. Infection doesn't have to be biological, it can be conceptual.”[4] 

[1] Adrienne Sichel, “Night and day”, Tonight, 7 February 2012. “Referring to the age restriction, which FATC has imposed on other pieces, [PJ] Sabbagha and [Tracey] Human are concerned about the implicit ambiguities in the performance and choreography which could be missed, or misconstrued, by young people.” 

[2] Danse l'Afrique danse! programme, Bamako (Mali), for “Deep Night”, 2010.

[3] PJ. Sabbagha, quoted in “New focuses on Aids", (official site of the city of Johannesburg), 2009,

[4] PJ Sabbagha, quoted by A. Sichel, “Night and day”, Tonight, 7 February 2012.  

Programme extract

““Deep night" is a multimedia contemporary dance theatre work inspired by the presence of HIV and AIDS in all our lives. The work was originally created and presented to mark and celebrate World Aids Day 2009. HIV and AIDS are critical personal and social issues which permeate all levels of our individual and communal existence whether we know it or not. This tiny sophisticated virus permeates our minds, bodies and hearts, revealing the bleakest and most beautiful layers of our humanity.

Set against the backdrop of a night club exterior the images and sequences unravel revealing our desperate desire to belong and be loved. The work draws its impulse from that very “witching time of night” when the line between reality and fantasy becomes blurred. That time when we are overwhelmed by our desires and when our bodies are all consuming.

Sometimes gentle, sometimes irreverent, this challenging and provocative new work draws together bruising physicality and exciting imagery to weave together a dream like stream of consciousness on love, lust, longing and loneliness.” 

More information

“New focuses on Aids”, (official site of the city of Johannesburg), 2009.

Mposula, Siyabonga, “Into the deep nights of Jozi”,, 27 August 2010

Molebatsi Manzi, “Lessons of the Deep Night”,, 27 August 2010 

Sassen, Rosslyn, “My View: Dance Umbrella: Deep Night”,, 3 November 2010

Updating: February 2014

Sabbagha, PJ

A South African choreographer based in Johannesburg, PJ Sabbagha founded The First Physical Theatre Company with Gary Gordon, after graduating with honours from Rhodes University in 1993.

Honoured in 1995 by the newspaper “The Star” as one of South Africa's ten most important artists, he was also nominated for the Amstel Salute to Success award. 

In 2005, he received the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Dance and the following year, the choreography prize at the Dance Umbrella Festival for his work “Still Here”. He has also received the Most Outstanding Presentation award for both “The Double Room” (2005) and “Macbeth” (2009), as well as multiple nominations at the FNB Vita Awards and FNB Dance Umbrella Awards. 

Invited to the United States in 2007, he travelled the country in search of initiatives dealing with HIV, AIDS or other infectious diseases.

PJ Sabbagha's work has been performed around the world, and he has had residencies in Russia, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Mali, Mozambique and Mexico. 

Not afraid to deal with difficult issues, his dance is today largely associated with the problems of AIDS.

Sabbagha undertook his formal training at Rhodes University in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

In 1992 Sabbagha graduated with a BA (Majoring in Drama and Psychology) Rhodes University

In 1993 he graduated with a BA Honors (With Distinction) Rhodes University

He was one of the founding members of the First Physical Theatre Company, under the Direction of Gary Gordon.

Sabbagha is founding member and Artistic Director of The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative and the Annual When Life Happens: HIV and AIDS arts and Culture.

List of choreographic works

2013:“Back” Moscow: Russia and Chalon: France
“I think its Hamlet” Johannesburg, South Africa

2012: “One Night Stand” Dance Umbrella 2012
“One Night Stand” Danse l’Afrique Danse 2012; Johannesburg
“somewhere out there life was screaming” assistant choreographer to Eric Languet, Johannesburg: South Africa, St Denis: Reunion, Chalon: France.
“I think its Hamlet” Kuandu, Taipei, Taiwan.

2011:“I think its Hamlet” Dance Umbrella 2011
“Deep Night” invited to Kinani Festival in Mozambique

2010: Invited to present Deep Night at the 2010 FNB Dance Umbrella
Deep Night to be presented for Wits Drama for Life festival in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pitermaritzberg and Durban.
Deep Night selected as a finalist in the 2010 Dance Africa Dance, Biennal, Choreographic Competition in Bamako, Mali.
Invited to create a new work on The Matchbox Theatre Collective for The National Arts Festival 2010
Invited to create a new work with Masters, Honors, 3rd and 4th year students from Wits School of Arts and Drama For Life program fort 2010 Drama for Life Festival.
Invited to complete a 4 week Artistic Residency with Dialogue Dance Company and School in Kostroma Russia.

2009: Commissioned to create a new full-length work for the 2009 F.N.B. Dance Umbrella
Created ZEBRA for the 2009 F.N.B Dance Umbrella – a first time collaboration between South African and Russian artists.
ZEBRA presented in JHB South Africa, Moscow, Kostroma and Yraslav Russia During March 2009.
BACK presented in 8 cities in Mexico during April and May 2009
Sabbagha competed a 2 week Artistic Residency in Mazatlan Mexico during May 2009.
ZEBRA invited to and presented on the Main Program of the 2009 National Arts Festival, Grahamstwon South  Africa.
BACK invited to and presented at Visa 2 Dance festival in Tanzania during October 2009.
Deep Night created and premiered in JHB in commemoration of World Aids Day. (Nominated by critics as best Dance work for 2009)

Teaching Experience :

1995  Rhodes University Grahamstown - Part Time Tutor in Movement, Dance, Choreography, Physical Theater, Voice, Group Acting

Company Manager and Resident Choreographer and full time performer for The First Physical Theater Company

1995 to 2003   Wits University, Johannesburg - Senior Tutor and Lecturer Movement, Dance and Choreography


Awarded the 2008 MEC Award for Most Outstanding Presentation of a New Work for MACBETH.

Nominated for the 2008 Gauteng MEC Awards for Best Choreography and Most Outstanding Presentation of a new work for MACBETH  and BACK.

Nominated for the 2007 Gauteng MEC Awards for Best Choreography and Most Outstanding Presentation of a New Work for MACBETH.

Awarded the 2006 Arts and Culture Gauteng MEC’s Award for Choreographer of the Year and Best Choreographer for  Still Here!

2005 Standard Bank Young Artists Award for Dance

Recipient of the FNB Vita Award for most Outstanding Presentation of an Original South African Contemporary Dance work for The Double Room.

Finalist for the Daimler Chrysler Award for Choreography

Nominated for F.N.B. Vita Award for Choreographer of the year and most Outstanding Presentation of an Original South African Contemporary Dance work for Canto Hondo, Just You Just Me, and Noah’s Phobia.

Recipient of the 1995 F.N.B. Vita Young Choreographers Grant.

More information :

Denyschen, Jessica

Cinematographer, editor, writer at Phoenix and Owl Pty, 

Director and Project Manager at The Ar(t)chive, in Johannesburg (South Africa)

The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative

Deep Night

Artistic direction / Conception : PJ Sabbagha

Artistic direction assistance / Conception : Dada Masilo, Lulu Mlangeni, Ivan Teme et Songezo Mcillizeli

Interpretation : Dada Masilo, Lulu Mlangeni, Ivan Teme et Songezo Mcillizeli

Original music : Thabo Pule, PJ Sabbagha

Video conception : Thabo Pule

Lights : Thabo Pule, PJ Sabbagha

Deep Night

« New focuses on Aids », (site officiel de la ville de Johannesburg), 2009.

Mposula, Siyabonga. « Into the deep nights of Jozi », , 27 August 2010.

Molebatsi Manzi, « Lessons of the Deep Night », , 27 August 2010.

Sassen, Rosslyn. « My View: Dance Umbrella: Deep Night »,, 3 novembre 2010.

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