Maqoma’s Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero Mourns Death Magnificently

 

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The memorable Cion conceived and choreographed by Gregory Maqoma

 CION: REQUIEM OF RAVEL’S BOLERO

Conceived and choreographed by: Gregory Maqoma

Creative input and rehearsal director: Gladys Aghulas

Music composed and directed by: Nhlanhla Mahlangu

Dancers: Vuyani Dance Theatre

Singers: Soweto Gospel Choir

Musical assistance: Xolisile Bongwana and Sbusiso Shozi

Costumes: Jacques van der Watt and Black Coffee

Set and technical direction: Oliver Hauser

Lighting: Mannie Manim

Sound: Ntuthuko Mbuyazi

Choir under direction of Bongani Ncube

Venue and Dates: Nelson Mandela Theatre until September 15

 

 

DIANE DE BEER

It is such a strange time in the world, with the arts perilously balanced with all the usual stumbling blocks. Add to that the decimation of arts writing on all the traditional platforms with nothing in its place – or where there is, no way for possible readers to find it.

With the result that everyone is battling to get their stories out there. I was at a National Theatre Live screening of The Lehman Trilogy with Sam Mendes directing Simon Russel Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles last week.

There were five people watching this majestic piece. No one I asked knew about the screening and I spoke and wrote about it because I love sharing the arts because of the impact it has on individual lives.

Hopefully similar things will not happen to Gregory Maqoma’s sublime Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero, currently on at the Joburg Theatre until Sunday in celebration of the vibrant Vuyani Dance Theatre’s 20th anniversary.

In an amplified version (“death needs amplifying in the present circumstances,” says the choreographer) which starts with bone-chilling sobs drenched by shafts of sharp light from which the dancers emerge, the tone is set as the heartache of those sounds find solace in the rhythms of Ravel’s Boléro. As the dancers start moving as one, they sweep your emotions along.

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It is a mighty piece on multiple levels and even though it is inspired and based on two Zakes Mda books, Ways of Dying and Cion, the strength lies in  the complexity of the whole with the evocative lighting, the heightened sounds of the Soweto Gospel Choir as the dancers bring their own singing to create specific rhythms and textures, all contributing to the enormity of what Maqoma is dealing with.

Enveloped in this grief, the production is mesmerising and astonishing in its excellence. From Black Coffee’s costumes, the diversity of the music and the singing, the Ravel rhythms often suggested by the dancers’ clicking or tapping or a drumbeat, the melancholy and sometimes even merriment of the production are completely overwhelming in its brilliance.

We are living in a world that takes dying lightly. Just the last few days in our country underlines that in different ways. Gender-based abuse has again galvanised women to step out and shout while simultaneously a young man is being sentenced for raping a 7-year old girl in a toilet at a restaurant.

A young mother kills four of her children with rat poison and goes out partying.

Shops in both Joburg and Tshwane are set alight and burnt to the ground while politicians argue whether this is xenophobia or not. People are dying because they are hungry and the root causes are never addressed.

Schoolchildren fear for their safety at schools while others are kidnapped on their way or back home.

In the rest of the world, refugees are growing in numbers as they flee from their countries because of war or dictatorships and some are simply banished because they’re not wanted. “We are forced into mourning,” says Maqoma who tells the story in the way he best knows how.

And yet failed leaders are mourned in their death and feted while their people suffer and eventually flee their land.

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Scenery and lighting extraordinaire

It is against this backdrop that Maqoma creates a visual spectacle that grabs you tightly around the throat and never lets go. The dancers move, en masse it feels, yet are given individual moments, from Afro fusion to a nod to the classics but in contemporary and fast- changing style, everyone on stage is celebrated and contributes to hold their audience in complete awe.

The beauty, the execution, the quality and excellence unfolding underline the talent of our artists who are out there fighting and creating on their own. If this is what they achieve while struggling, the heights they could reach are staggering.

But that is the world of the artist. He can’t help himself. As Maqoma suggests, with individuals who are daily running the Vuyani Dance Theatre, he has been encouraged and allowed to dream, which he fortunately does on grand scale. He doesn’t hold back and does it the only way he knows how

There are only five performances left. It’s one of those landmark theatrical experiences which is on its way to London to be staged during the Dance Umbrella festival at the Barbican. Those performances will be packed and so should they be back home.

It’s accessible, the music is mindblowing and Gregory Maqoma’s talent and collaboration genius should be witnessed again and again. His artistry is recognised internationally but he insists on staying and performing at home.

I am eternally grateful. Seeing Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero, not once but twice, has been a theatrical miracle.

 

 

Zakes Mda Tells African Stories that Resonate and Grow Stronger with Time

CION_Maqoma_0235Summertime and the living is easy. DIANE DE BEER kicks off this season of reading and catching up with all those books that were put aside during the year. She starts her holiday reading with two award-winning novels by the erudite Zakes Mda: one old, one new-ish, but both will take you into a world where you can lose yourself – while learning more about our people and this place:

 

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Cion

 

Earlier this year, before I had the luxury of this blog, I had the chance to see the sublime Gregory Maqoma’s Cion at The Market – and very little has surpassed that experience this year.

He explains the creation thus: “I am drawn to Zakes Mda’s character Toloki the professional mourner from his beloved Ways of Dying as he further uncovers in his book Cion the story of the runaway slaves. In my interpretation, Toloki rediscovers death in a modern context, inspired by the universal events that lead to death, not as a natural phenomenon but by decisions of others over the other. We mourn death by creating death. The universe of greed, power, religion has led us to be professional mourners who transform the horror of death and the pain of mourning into a narrative that questions what seems to be normalised and far more brutal in how we experience death and immigration. I am creating this work as a lament, a requiem required to awaken a part of us, the connection to the departed souls.”

Nothing prepares you for the performance by Maqoma who has gathered a group of dancers, musicians and singers who mourn death in a way that both embraces and expunges the horrors of this world.

From the design to the dance to the magnificent music and singing, Maqoma transports you to a place of healing by tearing the horror apart step for step, note by note.

If you ever see Cion is being performed anywhere, don’t hesitate, just go. It’s world class and feeds the soul.

 

 

What he left me with, amongst other things, is a realisation that I had never read Ways of Dying, but I had put the book aside for just this kind of timing. Telling the story of Toloki, the professional mourner that so inspired Maqoma, Mda has created something that deeply touches the soul – on every level.

Toloki is a man who spends his life mourning the lives of others while trying to define a life of his own. It’s a story of sadness, of seeing yourself through the eyes of others, but living with a purpose that keeps you going as you bring some reason for hope to the lives of others.

“Death lives with us every day. Indeed our ways of dying are our ways of living,” says Toloki capturing the essence of this haunting tale.

Then Mda highlighted his year when running off with the Sunday Times fiction award for Little Suns (Umuzi) which meant I could simply stick to this amazing author having delved into his past writing and now encouraging him to delve into his family’s past.

It is a love story embedded in a history lesson of sorts. While he seemingly writes about a lame and frail Malangana who searches for his beloved Mthwakazi, Mda writes a searing revision of the past as it was told by the strongmen of that time.

What can you expect from history when the vanquished were not allowed a voice?

He is scathing in his account of colonialism (as he should be), discovering this intriguing tale as he set out to investigate his own roots.

The story is as intriguing as the writing and the characters who take you on this wild ride.

And if you have been hooked, which is a high probability, you might as well close off this chapter with the illuminating Heart of Redness, from a writer who always has the African soul at heart.