By Edward Tsumele
South Africa’s celebrated dance icon Gregory Maqoma is retiring from the Dance floor, as he turns 50. However the multi-award winning dancer and choreographer is doing it in style. He is staging his most celebrated choreographic work so far Exit/Exist at the Market Theatre and at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda.
The fact that he has decided to exit the dance floor by way of staging this internationally critically acclaimed production Exit/Exist is a quiet poignant moment in recent dance history. It is the end of a dance era for Maqoma who ruled both the local and international dance floors for years and has always impressed dance audiences wherever he performed. The production as deeply intense as it is very personal as the artists pays tribute to his late ancestor.
“Gregory Maqoma is 50 years old on the 16 th October 2023. He honours this journey with a work that is sentimental to him. A season of Exit/Exist will be returning to the Market Theatre from 22 – 25 June 2023 and the National Arts Festival from 27 – 28 June 2023.
This performance is one of last performances as Maqoma retires from dancing as he wraps up current works and hand over successively .Fifty strong, Maqoma has been a catalyst of change in the artistic industry, breaking new ground, addressing existing stereotypes and speaking against injustices in the sector.
Through his award-winning storytelling, Gregory has introduced the world to characters and storylines that have captured the zeitgeist of history and remain resonant to this day.
Exit/Exist is a sensitive solo work which will make a return to The Market Theatre for a
4 day season during the month of June. This piece still resonates with South Africa today, as we continue to weave through the necessary discourse of land as a nation. It reflects and explores the memory and legacy of Maqoma’s ancestor, Chief Jongumsobomvu Maqoma, one of the most renowned Xhosa leaders, who was born in 1798, arrested when he ordered the English colonisers to liberate Xhosa land and died in Robben Island in 1873,” the Market Theatre says in a statement.
The core of this piece is memory; rephrasing the notion of existence and the notion of simply existing in order to exist. This production takes a moment to pause; to look back; to rewind the tape to the days when the tapestry of South Africa was about the collision of biographies.
A deliberate choice of less exposition and a bigger emphasis on how we use the visual element to tell this tale, while underpinning the musicality, that we hope will evoke the spirit of the time. Chief Maqoma to us is not only an iconic figure of Xhosa land, but a figure of historical transformation, the custodian of movement of a people that cleared the path to an emancipation that he spent his whole life advocating, fighting and yearning for.
Under the direction of James Ngcobo, Maqoma choreographs Exit/Exist accompanied on stage by four South African singers and a guitarist Giuliano Modarelli, who all help facilitate the telling of the story through their harmonious vocals. The musical collaboration from Simphiwe Dana, Giuliano Modarelli and IComplete carries Gregory through this solo performance. David Tlale designs costume into masterpieces of arts which edifies the narration of the story Maqoma is telling.
“The return of Exit/Exist at the Market Theatre where it was first premiered in 2012 is not only befitting to the extraordinary journey I have taken so far, but marks 150 years since the passing of my ancestor, Chief Maqoma. The issue of land, that is emphasised in the work, is a trail of human misery and degradation, loss and hope.” shares Maqoma.
As he retires from dancing, Maqoma believes his legacy is one of telling ground-breaking stories as a way of social commentary contributing to South Africa’s narrative and proudly the world over. It has been fifty years of firsts, fifty years of learning, fifty years of anguish and frustration, but most importantly it has been fifty years of Gregory Vuyani Maqoma being alive.
Exit/Exist’s return to Johannesburg and Makhanda is in association with The Market Theatre, National Arts Festival, The Department of Sports Arts and Culture produced by Vuyani Dance Theatre.
About Vuyani Dance Theatre
The Vuyani Dance Theatre (VDT) is a contemporary African dance company founded in
1999 by Creative Director Gregory Maqoma. After years of gracing international and local stages, VDT is positioned as one of the most cutting-edge, thought provoking and successful dance and theatrical organisations to have emerged in Africa. VDT is spot-on regarding its artistic objective of producing work that questions and challenges social values while, simultaneously, exploiting history as a launch pad for (material) research and development. The company has performed in Europe, the USA, Africa, Mexico and New
Zealand. It has scooped top awards in South Africa for dance and choreography and has received international recognition and continues to do so. VDT constantly finds co-creators and performers from all over the world. Hitherto, the interaction that includes ideas and empirical artistic participation has led VDT in the direction of efficacy. It can be stated without doubt, at the moment, that all who have been aligned (in turns) with VDT since inception have in one way or another gained from the organization.
About Gregory Maqoma
Gregory Vuyani Maqoma became interested in dance in the late 1980s as a means to escape the growing political tensions growing in Soweto, South Africa, where he was born.
He started his formal dance training in 1990 at Moving into Dance, where he, later, became the Associate Artistic Director in 2002. He founded Vuyani Dance Theatre (VDT) in 1999 while undertaking a scholarship at the Performing Arts Research and Training School
(PARTS) in Belgium, under the direction of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. Maqoma has established himself as an internationally renowned dancer, choreographer, teacher, and director.
Amongst awards Gregory has received between 1993 and now, his first, Dance Umbrella peak of the stepping stones choreography award for “where, here and there’. In 2002,
Maqoma received the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for dance and was a finalist in the
Daimler Chrysler Choreography Award. He was a finalist in the Rolex Mentorship
Programme in 2003. Several works in his repertoire have won him accolades and
international acclaim, including the Tunkie Award for Leadership in Dance (2012), and a
“Bessie”, New York City’s premier dance award for Exit/Exist for original music composition
(2014). He served as a nominator in the 2016-2017 Rolex Arts Initiative as well as curating the 2017 Main Dance Programme for the National Arts Festival.
The French government honoured Maqoma with the Chevalier de L’Ordre des Artes et des
Lettres (Knight of the Arts & Literature) Award in 2017. The following year, 2018, Maqoma collaborated with William Kentridge as a choreographer and performer in “The Head and the
Load,” an opera which premiered at the Tate Modern Gallery in London, and is still touring
Europe, and the United States. Maqoma collaborated with Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-
Armah in the production, “Tree,” produced by Manchester International Festival and the
Young Vic (2018). In 2020, Maqoma was honoured to deliver the prestigious International
Dance Day message under the auspices of the International Theatre Institute and UNESCO.
Recently he was commissioned by Ballet De Lyon to create, “The Valley of Human Sounds” and Ballet Black to create, “Black Sun”. Maqoma wrote and directed his first musical in
2022,“Third World Express” in collaboration with Shadrack Bokaba which premiered at the
Mandela at Joburg Theatre. Shortly after he choreographed for another new musical,
“Mandela”, directed by Schele Williams with music created by Greg and Shaun Borowsky produced by the Young Vic in London. ZO!Mute, a new double-bill with Vincent Mantsoe premiered at the Lesedi at Joburg Theatre in February 2023.
Maqoma celebrates his fiftieth birthday in 2023 and he has curated a number of legacy projects that he will be revealing as the year progresses.
Tickets available through Webticket and at the door
Ticket prices: R300
Discounted @ R120 only available when you contact Anthony Ezeoke 011 832 1641ext