Jiva! season 1 review – an infectious, energetic celebration of dance

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: June 24, 2021
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The downside to Jiva Season 1 is that it only feels like half a story. The upsides, though, outweigh that — this is a wonderfully energetic and infectious celebration of dance.

This recap of Jiva! season 1 is spoiler-free.

There are plenty of films and TV shows about dancing — including several on Netflix — but South African Original Jiva! is the most dance-heavy of these kinds of stories I’ve ever seen. Usually, they’re romances or comedies or whatever with some big numbers to break up the drama; this, though, is much more a collection of expertly choreographed dances with a bit of character drama grafted on. That’s both a good and a bad thing. It’s good for fans of dance, certainly. But the fact that Jiva season 1 only feels like half a story means it doesn’t really get its hooks in, as infectious as it all might be.

It is infectious, though. Created by the award-winning writer, producer, and director, Busisiwe Ntintili, and directed by Scottnes L. Smith, Mmambatho Montsho, and Mandla Dube, the show primarily follows Ntombi, a talented dancer who has been forced to abandon her passion to instead focus on her familial responsibilities. Trapped in a dead-end job and a working-class neighborhood, she’s given a glimmer of hope by a dance competition with a hefty cash prize, so forms a girl group alongside Vuyiswa, Lady E, Zinhle, and Nolwazi in order to go after the dough — provided she can deal with her family and rivals in the meantime.

It’s a simple setup, but that’s part of the appeal. If nothing else it excuses an impressive number of dance sequences, which is visibly where Jiva is most comfortable. Everything from the costuming to the choreography of these high-energy sequences is stellar, and it’s the primary reason to watch the show. None of this is to say that everything else is bad, just that there isn’t quite enough of it, and a wavering focus leaves many tangential subplots away from Ntombi feeling largely superfluous. While efforts in these areas might pay off dramatically in what I’m led to believe is an already greenlit second season, they come across as padding here, which in a mere five episodes is far from a good thing.

But the essence of Jiva Season 1 is absolutely infectious, and there’s no doubt in my mind that this show will develop some ardent fans. It’s such an enthusiastic celebration of South African culture and the art form of dance that it’s virtually impossible to dislike it, even if you can lament how little of it there is in this opening outing. If there’s going to be more of this, let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later so it doesn’t have time to slip from the public consciousness. It deserves a second go-around.

Netflix, TV Reviews
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