SA choreographer Maqoma tours stunning work in US

South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma began his first official US tour this month with his evocative work Beautiful Me, a solo piece that blends ancestral stomping and modern movement with sitar music and Indian dance.

He describes the dance as a conversation with world leaders, family and artists of the past and future. Beautiful Me will debut in Los Angeles; Albuquerque, New Mexico; San Francisco; Seattle, and Miami.

The 35-year-old is a formidable and inventive artist who has solidified a career in Africa and in Europe, often collaborating with well-known choreographers such as Akram Khan and presenting works in France. But he has yet to tour his own work in the United States beyond the state of Maine, where he gave a performance in 2008 at the Bates Dance Festival.

“I hope this tour opens more doors for him, as a teacher and choreographer.
And I hope that the US will pick him up and invite him to more festivals,” said Georgina Thomson, director of Johannesburg’s FNB Dance Umbrella Festival.

“Greg is thoughtful, has a sense of humor, and he’s determined.”

While many artists from this continent emphasize their ancestral dance forms while touring abroad, Maqoma’s style is a true blend of traditional and contemporary. Maqoma collaborated with three
artists to create a performance that also combines inspiration from Congolese and Xhosa influences with his own contemporary flare.

In Beautiful Me, Maqoma crouches around a projected compass on the floor and calls out names of past presidents with whom he wants
to have conversations. He also calls out for his father who passed away in 2008, and Michael Jackson.

“I’m speaking with people from the past and present,” Maqoma said. “The work is about memories and relationships developed over
the years—some implied and some a given,” he said.

Maqoma is a dance hero in Johannesburg, where his company, the Vuyani Dance Theatre Project is based. He has won several awards during his company’s 10 years, and he has recently started a
training programme for young dancers.

Born and raised in Soweto during apartheid, his career in dance was difficult, if not impossible. His triumphs, however, are the result of determination, sustenance and more than anything, pure artistic ingenue.

“I have vivid memories of the past, which have played out through my work,” he said.

For Beautiful Me—the third in The Beautiful Trilogy—Maqoma worked with Britain’s Khan, Congo’s Faustin Linyekula and
South Africa’s Vincent Mantsoe. The piece melds Khan’s contemporary version of the Indian classical Kathak with Mantsoe’s cultural influences and Linyekula’s dialogue.

“This consolidates my relationship with my generation of dance-makers,” he said of the work, which he developed during a residency at the Centre National de la Danse in Paris.

His movement vocabulary tells the story of his street inspiration in Soweto and training at the prominent PARTS programme headed by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker in Brussels. It is fascinating to see the melange of styles play out. Maqoma’s long limbs, sinewy and lean physique are a pleasure to watch even as he directs rehearsals and effortlessly works through steps. He has a mixture of humility and regality while performing in Beautiful Me.

The piece also emphasises his close relationship to music. The accompaniment is outstanding, with sitar, percussion and cello that melt in and out of the piece, highlighting his provocative dialogue.

“I believe in the work speaking for itself. I like to leave traces of uncertainty with audiences, creating curiosity,” he said. - Sapa-AP

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