Comforting colours of Maqoma

Greg Maqoma is among the top ranks of young, innovative South African choreographers. ‘I am what I am,” he declares at the beginning of Colour Comfort, his choreographic contribution to the National Arts Festival as Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance 2002. By these words he opens the door to the exploration of human interaction, gender politics and power relationships that are his points of departure.
Maqoma articulates these themes in ways that challenge preconceptions of humanity, race and sexuality and the production will be a strong contender for best dance presentation in a very competitive festival field.

Southern Comfort is a duet that considers how control of a given context shifts between the players in the situation. Constance Kau from Moving Into Dance Mophatong joins Maqoma on stage. The work makes Kau a prickly and pervasive presence as she orders her co-cast members (all male) around the stage in a parody of the demanding choreographer. Her tirade literally brings Maqoma to his knees. As she perches on his shoulders, hiding him under the folds of her dress, he is reduced to being her legs, turning, kicking and mincing about at her command. The choreography uses much humour, and it is this comedic element that eventually displaces Kau’s tinpot autocracy as Maqoma appeals to the viewer for support in his bondage.

Despite protestations and offers of bribery her influence is lost and she must submit as the audience answers the pressing demands of interval and, given Grahamstown’s winter temperatures, the nearest warm drink.

Rhythm Colour is more intense, both physically and emotionally, and utilises seven other dancers, in addition to Maqoma and an expanded musical ensemble.

The work remains figurative throughout. Where it touches on reality — which continues to be abstract — then it is in reference to the iconic memory of Hector Peterson, or in celebration of the life of drag artist Miss Thandi (born Raymond Vuyo Matinyana), whose international career made him one of the most unusual of South Africa’s cultural ambassadors. During his performance Maqoma dons a wig and short skirt and deconstructs the alternative iconography of Miss Thandi in a brief and blurringly swift solo performed at the foot of the stage.

Maqoma creates multifaceted movement. Exotic curves, which ripple the hips sideways, contrast starkly with the straight lines formed by extended limbs or backs held rigid in profiled forward bends. A shimmer in the spine enters the pelvis and emerges from legs that arc through the air around the dancers and tug their bodies into extremely quick, multiple pirouettes. Very fast, sometimes brittle, often staccato, never predictable, Maqoma’s fused South African dance aesthetic draws on his traditional Xhosa roots, blended with township moves and formal Western techniques.

Colour Comfort is currently on a tour that has seen performances in Den Haag and Amsterdam. After Grahamstown the season moves to the Port Elizabeth Opera House (July 5 and 6) and finally to the FNB Vita Dance Umbrella in Cape Town (September 11 to 15).

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