Music theatre about a forgotten colonial history

The Head &
The Load

Opening Holland Festival 2019

William Kentridge, Philip Miller, Thuthuka Sibisi, Gregory Maqoma

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William Kentridge’s latest production, which takes its title from the Ghanaian proverb ‘the head and the load are the troubles of the neck,’ opens the 2019 Holland Festival with a grand spectacle. The work, featuring music by long-time collaborator Phillip Miller with Thuthuka Sibisi and choreography by Gregory Maqoma, illuminates the plight of the nearly two million African porters and carriers used by the British, French, and Germans who bore the brunt of the casualties during the First World War in Africa – a tragic story of immense historical significance that has remained largely untold. Kentridge’s unique vision brings together an international ensemble cast of musicians, singers, dancers, and performers alongside film projections and shadow play to create a landscape of extraordinary proportion and imagination that unfolds across a 50-meter wide stage.

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background information

The Head & the Load is about Africa and Africans in the First World War, that is to say about all the contradictions and paradoxes of colonialism that were heated and compressed by circumstances

of the war. It is about historical incomprehension (and inaudibility and invisibility). The colonial logic towards the black participants could be summed up. ‘Lest their actions merit recognition, their deeds must not be recorded.’ The Head & The Load aims to recognize and record.’ ¬-William Kentridge 
William Kentridge’s exploration of Africa’s role in the First World War combines music, dance, film projections, mechanized sculptures and shadow play to illuminate the untold story of the millions of African porters and carriers who served—and in many cases died for—British, French and German battlefield forces. Freighted with the weight of this little-examined history and quickened by Kentridge’s visionary theatrical alchemy and a play on the Ghanaian proverb, ‘the head and the load are the troubles of the neck’, The Head & The Load is an exceptionally ambitious and large-scale work of performance.
William Kentridge is a remarkably versatile artist who combines the political with the poetic through artistic media as diverse as printmaking, drawing, painting, sculpting, and filmmaking. Dealing with subjects such as apartheid, colonialism, and totalitarianism, his highly personal work is often imbued with lyrical undertones in his critical examination of aspects of his native South African society and the aftermath of apartheid.
The Head & The Load sees Kentridge work with his longtime collaborator Philip Miller, one of South Africa’s leading composers, and choreographer and principle dancer Gregory Maqoma to create what the artist describes as ‘an interrupted musical procession’. This rich and multi-layered performance features an international cast of singers, dancers, and performers, a majority directly from South Africa. Miller’s powerful and evocative compositions offer a perfect complement to Kentridge’s imaginative work.
The music for The Head & The Load is a dialogue between two different sound worlds which emerged during and straight after the first world war. Exploring how European artists and composers of the Dada movement broke down the borders between spoken text and music, and how this avant-garde movement connects surprisingly with the sound world of the African choral music, and song- often performed with fluid interplay between spoken word and singing. The expression of these sound worlds take the forms of musical collisions and mistranslations between these musical forces.
Europe reacts to the war with the birth of post romantic music, with composers like Hindemith, Schoenberg which are taken into our sound-world, stretched, inverted and then reflected back from Africa with vocal war chants, laments and marching processional brass bands. A cabaret song by Schoenberg is intercut with the percussive rhythmical slaps of the Christian hymn books sent to Africa as part of the colonial mission. A rich, sweet violin waltz by Fritz Kreisler is obliterated by a Zulu war song. A recording of a speech of Wilhelm Kaiser is reduced to vocal percussive consonants of his words alluding to the absurdist poems of Kurt Schwitters. Even when this hybridity of musical traditions open up into moments of glorious ensemble singing of African songs from the time, they are constantly fighting, and shouting back, and resisting the raucous musical soundscapes of the European war, using a band of orchestral instruments to become sirens, foghorns and radio frequencies, engaging with the modernist movement in music which emerged as a consequence of the trauma of the first world war.



William Kentridge (South Africa, 1955) is internationally acclaimed for his drawings, films, theatre and opera productions. His practice is born out of a cross-fertilisation between mediums and genres.

His work responds to the legacies of colonialism and apartheid, within the context of South Africa's socio-political landscape. His aesthetics are drawn from the medium of film’s own history, from stop-motion animation to early special effects. Kentridge’s drawing, specifically the dynamism of an erased and redrawn mark, is an integral part of his expanded animation and filmmaking practice, in which the meanings of his films are developed during the process of their making. His practice also incorporates his theatre training. Kentridge’s work has been seen in museums and galleries around the world since the 1990s, including Documenta in Kassel, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Albertina Museum in Vienna, Musée du Louvre in Paris, Whitechapel Gallery in London, Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen and the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid. Opera productions include Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Shostakovich’s The Nose, and Alban Berg’s Lulu, and have been seen at opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera (New York), La Scala (Milan), English National Opera (London), Opera de Lyon, De Nationale Opera (Amsterdam), and others. Summer 2017 saw the premiere of Kentridge’s production of Berg’s Wozzeck for the Salzburg Festival. The 5-channel video and sound installation The Refusal of Time was made for Documenta (13) in 2012; since then it has been seen in cities around the world. More Sweetly Play the Dance, an 8-channel video projection shown first in Eye Amsterdam in April 2015, and Notes Toward a Model Opera, a three-screen projection looking at the Chinese Cultural Revolution, made for an exhibition in Beijing in 2015; both have been presented in many other cities since. Kentridge’s ambitious yet ephemeral public art project for Rome Triumphs & Laments (a 500 m frieze of figure power-washed from pollution and bacterial growth on the walls of the Tiber River) opened in April 2016 with a performance of live music composed by Philip Miller and a procession of shadow figures. William Kentridge featured at the Holland Festival in 2010 with Telegrams from the Nose, in 2012 with Refuse the Hour and in 2014 with Winterreise. In 2015, he staged Alban Berg's Lulu with De Nationale Opera (Amsterdam). Kentridge is one of the Holland Festival’s two associate artists this year.


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.


Philip Miller (b. 1964) is a South African composer based in Johannesburg. He first practiced law before establishing a career in music. His work is often developed from collaborative projects in theatre, film and video. One of his most significant collaborators is the internationally acclaimed artist William Kentridge. His music to Kentridge’s animated films and multimedia installations has been heard in museums and galleries all over the world, including MoMA, SFMOMA, the Guggenheim Museums (both New York and Berlin), the Teatro La Fenice in Venice and the Tate Modern in London. Out of this collaboration, the live concert series Nine Drawings for Projection and Sounds from the Black Box has evolved, touring Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, France and the United States. In 2007, Miller conceived and composed Rewind, a Cantata for Voice, Tape and Testimony, an award-winning choral work based on the testimonies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. The cantata had its international debut in New York at the Celebrate Brooklyn Festival and has been performed at the Centre for Theatre and Dance at Williams College in Massachusetts, the Market Theatre in Johannesburg and the Royal Festival Hall in London. Other recent commissions include the sound installation BikoHausen: Steve Biko and Karlheinz Stockhausen in Johannesburg (2016) at Darmstadt Summer Music Festival, and his most recent collaboration with Thuthuka Sibisi, the sound installation The African Choir of 1891 Re-imagined, at Autograph ABP in London, the Apartheid Museum and the Iziko South African National Gallery (South Africa). He regularly composes film scores which have garnered him many awards, including an Emmy nomination for HBO’s The Girl (2012).


Thuthuka Sibisi began his musical education at the world-renowned Drakensberg Boy’s Choir School where his passion for performance was born. He went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Music at Stellenbosch University, completed his studies in Physical Theatre and Movement and is a graduate of the MA program at Goldsmiths in London. Thuthuka has toured extensively, performing throughout South Africa as well as Asia, South America and in Europe. Visual collaborations include work with Johannesburg-based photographer and sculptor, Jake Singer, presented at Sustainable Empires in Venice and in Los Angeles Centre for Digital Art. Other exhibition works were presented at The Cape Town City Hall and the Wits Art Museum. As Musical Director he collaborated with Philip Miller in Between A Rock and A Hard Place, in The African Choir 1891 Re-imagined, in Pulling Numbers and in Notes Toward a Model Opera by William Kentridge. He is a recipient of the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans 2017 award and 2018 Ampersand Foundation Fellow.



concept and director
William Kentridge
Philip Miller
co-composer, music director
Thuthuka Sibisi
projection design
Catherine Meyburgh
Gregory Maqoma
costume design
Greta Goiris
set design
Sabine Theunissen
lighting design
Urs Schönebaum, Georg Veit
sound design
Mark Grey
video editing, video composition
Janus Fouché, Žana Marović, Catherine Meyburgh
associate director
Luc De Wit
studio technical director
Chris Waldo de Wet
video orchestrator
Kim Gunning
Duško Marović
Michael Atkinson, Philip Miller
additional orchestration by
Nathan Koci
Mncedisi Shabangu, Hamilton Dlamini, Nhlanhla Mahlangu, Luc De Wit
featured vocalists and performers
Joanna Dudley, Nhlanhla Mahlangu, Ann Masina, Bham Ntabeni, Sipho Seroto, N`Faly Kouyate (kora), Mario Gotoh (viola, The Knights), Tlale Makhene (percussion) and Vincenzo Pasquariello (piano)
Gregory Maqoma, Julia Zenzie Burnham, Thulani Chauke, Xolani Dlamini, Nhlanhla Mahlangu
ensemble vocalists
Mhlaba Buthelezi, Ayanda Eleki, Grace Magubane, Ncokwane Lydia Manyama, Tshegofatso Moeng, Mapule Moloi, Lindokuhle Thabede, Motho Oa Batho, Eddie Mofokeng, Lubabalo Velebayi, Bulelani Madondile
Waldo Alexander (violin), Sam Budish* (percussion), Shawn Conley* (bass), Samuel Ewens* (trumpet), Deepa Goonetilleke (French horn), Mario Gotoh* (viola), Will Holshouser (accordion), Nicolas Jones* (trombone), Andrew Kershaw* (tuba), Eilidh Martin (cello), Myles Roberts (flute), Benny Vernon* (trombone) *with members of The Knights chamber orchestra (New York)
co-commissioned by
14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Commissions, Park Avenue Armory, Ruhrtriennale, Yale Schwarzman Center, MASS MoCA
with additional support from
Holland Festival
with assistance from
Marian Goodman Gallery, Goodman Gallery, Lia Rumma Gallery
lead support for the development has been provided by
Brenda R. Potter, Daniel R. Lewis, the W.L.S. Spencer Foundation and Jennifer & Jonathan Allan Soros
with further support from
Alessia Bulgari, Agnes Gund and Wendy Fisher
additional support has been provided by
the JKW Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Simeon Bruner, Robert Gold, Sarah McNair, Randal Fippinger, John and Cynthia Reed, Bill & Sako Fisher, Quaternaire, donors who wish to remain anonymous
created in residence at
MASS MoCA, North Adams, 2018, and Kentridge Studios, Johannesburg 2017-2018
developed in collaboration with
chamber orchestra The Knights
produced by
THE OFFICE performing arts + film, Rachel Chanoff, Laurie Cearley, Lynn Koek, Catherine DeGennaro, Noah Bashevkin, Olli Chanoff, Diane Eber, Gabrielle Davenport, Chloe Golding
in association with
Quaternaire, Sarah Ford
production manager
Brendon Boyd
technical director
Mike Edelman
sound engineer
Michele Greco
stage manager
Ryan Gohsman
assistant stage manager
Lissy Barnes-Flint
company manager
Carol Blanco
costume supervisor
Judith Stokart
head costume fabricator
Emmanuelle Erhart
costume fabricators
Bert Menzel, Claudine Grinwis
set assistant
Marine Fleury
studio assistant
Jacques van Staden
Stella Olivier
scenic painter
Anaïs Thomas
Sigi Koerner, Luke Gibson, Stephanie Barker
Gregory Maqoma’s understudy
Sunnyboy Motau
William Kentridge Studio
Anne McIlleron, Linda Leibowitz
artistic directors The Knights
Colin Jacobsen, Eric Jacobsen
special thanks to
Natalie Denbo, Homi Bhabha, Sue Killam, Meghan Labhee, Liza Essers, Joy Lowden, Dr Anna Maguire, David Olusoga, Roger Tatley, Anne Stanwix, Joe Thompson, Lautarchiv Humboldt University, Berlin and all the musicians, singers who participated in the first Maboneng Workshop, September 2017

This performance was made possible with support by