Political dance solo uses lightness as its main weapon

Beautiful Me

Gregory Maqoma, Vuyani Dance Theatre

In the solo Beautiful Me choreographer and dancer Gregory Maqoma shares his concern about South African society and political power in its current form throughout the world. Maqoma – who is also performing at this year’s festival in The Head & The Load and with two choreographies: Requiem Request and Cion – studied dance with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker among others and is now a globally renowned artist. For Beautiful Me three choreographers gave him movement material: Vincent Mantsoe, Faustin Linyekula and the British-Bengalese Akram Khan. These choreographers blend dance from their own cultural traditions with the Western idiom. Maqoma combines these pieces with live music and snippets of monologue – in his own authentic way, with humour and lightness as his main weapons.

background information

Gregory Maqoma wants to start a conversation; he is looking for an exchange with other artists, choreographers from his generation, those in power who have determined history and above all himself.

At the start of his internationally acclaimed solo Beautiful Me, Maqoma poses the question of how we can get such a conversation started. There he is, an African dancer with so many different stories, but what do we want to hear from him? It is a challenging and thought-provoking question which Maqoma uses to make you think about engrained images and identities. 
Beautiful Me is the third part of a trilogy consisting of the duet Beautiful (2005) with Shanell Winlock (best known for her work with Akram Khan), Beautiful us and Beautiful Me, in which Maqoma shares the stage with 4 musicians, a violinist, a cellist, a kora player and a drummer. Beautiful Me’s guiding principle forms the movement idiom of three choreographer friends whom Maqoma asked for contributions to the piece. All three are choreographers who deal with dance material from their own traditions in a very personal way. Maqoma and Vincent Mantsoe were school friends from Soweto and both went to study in Johannesburg at Moving Into Dance. Mantsoe is one of the pioneers of Afro-fusion, a mixture of ritual tribal dances, jazz, break-dance and modern contemporary dance. He collaborated with Faustin Linyekula during the 2000 ImPulsTanz Festival in Vienna on the project Tales off the Mud Wall. He also shares Linyekula’s work approach in terms of space, the environment in which it is created. The final contribution comes from the British-Bengali choreographer and dancer Akram Khan. Maqoma met Khan, who is famous for his interpretation of Indian Kathak dance, when he was presenting Southern Comfort at the Southbank Centre in London in 2001. Their connection was immediate and led to them collaborating on Steve Reichs 70th birthday commission Variations for Vibes, strings and pianos with The London Symphoniata In 2006.

 


Beautiful Me starts in darkness with a single spotlight on the violinist. Maqoma slowly becomes visible and audible in his first ‘conversation with father’, a poem in Xhosa about a colourful peacock that dreams of flying, traditionally stamping and fluttering. Maqoma subtly blends this traditional dance with other movement material. Snippets from conversations with Maqoma’s artistic kindred spirits can be heard. Motion sequences are broken up with historical dates and names of politicians from Africa’s recent history. The Belgian king Leopold II, who once described all of Congo as his own private property, makes an appearance. One moment he is trying to forget former President of South Africa Botha, the next he is having an imaginary conversation with Michael Jackson – the depths of Maqoma’s quirky imagination are limitless.
Beautiful Me is an African artist’s search for his own authentic voice or, in the words of Akram Khan, ‘In his performances Gregory uses his body as a storytelling vehicle. He is taking African traditional dance into the future. He is an unbelievably good performer with strong internal concentration. His work is spiritual, yet also witty’. The result is a mesmerising fusion of movement, text and music. A quest for identity in relation to his history.

 

Frascati programme associate artists

For two weeks Frascati theatre will be the home of associate artists William Kentridge and Faustin Linyekula. Alongside performances by themselves and artists who inspire them, there will be a lot of work from their studios. These presentations show the importance of Kentridges The Centre for the Less Good Idea and Linyekula’s Studios Kabako, and how they function. There will be a unique and exciting programme in which the boundaries between various artforms disappear. Also, we will be organising a series of debates, called The Welcome Table, in which themes from the presentations (that are also topical in the Netherlands) are discussed.

Kentridge and Linyekula use The Centre For The Less Good Idea and Studios Kabako to give both young and more experienced (performing) artists the space, opportunities and inspiration to work on their oeuvre. For Amsterdam they selected work using different criteria: Linyekula is giving two young artists the opportunity to test new work on Dutch audiences as works-in-progress; Kentridge selected presentations from all the seasons thus far been organised at The Centre.

Choose one or more parts of the programme and be surprised by performances that not only add a new perspective to Kentridge and Linyekula’s artistry, but also tell new stories – from intensely political reflections, exceptional childhood memories and attempts to create new myths for a new era.

 

 

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biography

South African dancer, choreographer and teacher Gregory Vuyani Maqoma (1973) is regarded as one of the most talented creative artists of his generation. He grew up in Soweto, and first started

dancing in the late 1980s, as a way of escaping the growing political tensions of his birth-place. He started his formal dance training in 1990, with Moving into Dance Mophatong, and in 1994 won the FNM Vita Pick of the Fringe prize for his first choreographic creation for this company. In 1999 he was awarded a scholarship for further studies at P.A.R.T.S. with Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. In the same year he also founded his own dance company, the Vuyani Dance Theatre. His career really took off after this and many prizes and awards followed, including in 1999, 2001 and 2002 the FNB Vita Choreographer of the Year award, and in 2006 and 2007 the Gauteng MEC Award for Beautiful Us and Beautiful Me. In 2012 he received the Tunkie Award for Leadership in Dance and in 2014 the New York City Bessie Award for Dance. In 2017 he was the recipient of the prestigious French title of Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Maqoma enjoys collaborating with other artists, and has frequently done so, for example with Akram Khan and the London Sinfonietta, singer-songwriter Simphiwe Dana, and the theatrical creator Brett Bailey. Maqoma was an associate artistic director of Moving Into Dance Mophatong and the Dance Umbrella festival, and from 2004 to 2010 was responsible for the Dutch Afrovibes festival. Gregory Maqoma is performing at the Holland Festival 2019 in his own choreographic pieces Beautiful MeRequiem Request and Cion: A Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero. He is also the choreographer of this year’s opening show, The Head & The Load.

 

Vuyani Dance Theatre was founded by Gregory Vuyani Maqoma in 1999 and has become one of Africa’s most successful cutting edge groups. Vuyani Dance Theatre has a dynamic approach that mixes the rhythms of Africa and its urban style, music and culture with their European counterparts. The themes it tackles are important to young people and are conveyed in music and dance styles that match the lives of their performers. But history is crucial too, and is always the starting point for research and development. Vuyani Dance Theatre’s dynamic and theatrical approach embraces the many tastes and cultures that determine South Africa’s unique character and is a clear expression of Johannesburg’s cultural cocktail. The group has performed worldwide in more than 100 cities, from Europe to the United States, Asia and New Zealand. Vuyani Dance Theatre finds it important to collaborate with artists from the whole world because this leads to exceptional mutual enrichment. Since 2004 the company has been working on an extensive development programme. Young people are intensively trained in-house in dance and choreography, thus enabling new talent to move into the company. There is also an extensive outreach programme for primary schools in the township, with twice-weekly lessons from company dancers. This means that talent can be spotted when the children are still young and can be given an early chance for further development.

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Credits

choreography, dance
Gregory Maqoma
artistic contribution
Vincent Mantsoe, Akram Khan, Faustin Linyekula
direction
Gerard Bester
music performed by
Isaac Molelekoa (viool), Joseph Makhanza (kora), Bongani Kunene (cello), Mandla Nhlapo (slagwerk), Nompumelelo Nhlapo (slagwerk)
light
Michael Mannion
technical manager
Oliver Hauser, Alexander Farmer
production
Vuyani Dance Theatre

This performance was made possible with support by