MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

The Art of Gregory Maqoma

Gregory Maqoma in Exit/Exist; photo: John Hogg

Gregory Maqoma in Exit/Exist; photo: John Hogg

This is why I love Seattle’s On the Boards: recently OtB presented Exit/Exist, the moving production by Gregory Maqoma and his
Vuyani Dance Theatre that’s currently on tour in the U.S.

A dancer, choreographer, and director from Johannesburg, Maqoma turns his attention in this piece to his heritage as a descendant of the 19th-century Xhosa chief Jongum-sobomvu Maqoma. Exit/Exist traces the wrenching story of Chief Maqoma’s heroic but doomed struggle against the British colonizers who ruthlessly dispossessed the Xhosa, destroying their ancestral way of life.

The piece itself unfolds as a spellbinding narrative fabric. Each thread enhances the others: Maqoma’s restlessly inventive dance steps, the score performed live by the brilliant Italian guitarist Giuliano Modarelli, with vocal harmonies by the ensemble Complete, and visuals that symbolically evoke the Xhosa’s cultural traditions and the crisis forced on them by the colonialist interlopers, ending with Chief Maqoma’s tragic defeat.

In the opening sequence, Maqoma – his back to the audience, clad in a silver jacket – weightlessly dances an extended solo suggesting perhaps a contemporary incarnation of the Chief – the situation faced by the survivors. From this the story then leaps across generations and geographies, effortlessly blending traditional, urban griot, folk, and popular idioms into a compelling whole that has the texture of a multi-faceted myth – and that haunts the imagination long after. It’s the same sorrowful pattern of conquest and loss once again, but rendered painfully real and present.

In an interview about his piece Beautiful Me, Maqoma describes the immediately recognizable emotional and personal connection his performances achieve:

I break the fourth wall, I get as close to my audience as possible and it is not space closeness but its by feeling, I want to be one with my audience, I invite them by opening all doors and scrapping away all conventions for them to feel safe with me. When they are safe with me, I’m safe with them, therefore we can begin to negotiate on all levels.

Filed under: dance, performance

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