Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review- Gregory Maqoma

Half way through the performance of Beautiful Me Gregory Maqoma stood on stage in front of the audience asked them "what am I saying to you?" And then, he waited for an answer. No one in the audience moved. This question was one of many Maqoma raised during the dance. Before this question he had just pondered aloud what he would ask the Queen if they met. Or what would he say if he met the Pope? George Bush? Or his deceased father? Maqoma looks at how power, struggle, and assumption can define one's identity.

Near the beginning of the piece Maqoma said the dance was inspired by an idea of wiping away names and wiping away history. The first movement we see him perform is very traditional and tribal with foot stomps and grounded rhythmic elements. He recites a poem in his native South African language. Here is his history. Next he moves as a contemporary dancer with such speed and fluidity of motion that his extremities become blurred. The strength and intensity builds with controlled precision. He is on a mission. Is this his new history? The movement is amazing. He has such control of both large sweeping turns as well as intimate small hand gestures. His range of movement is impressive. Then to address the notion of wiping away history Maqoma talks about all the political leaders from Africa's recent history. If they are named does that give them importance? Or does that relieve them of their power?

Maqoma's stage presence is quite haunting. He is the lone dancer although artistic contribution came from three other choreographers; Akram Khan, Faustin Linyeula and Vincent Mantsoe. Maqoma had one-way conversations with them during the piece when he would stand in front of three empty mic stands. It was as if as when he spoke into the mic , he was speaking with one of the three collaborators. Also onstage were four musicians; Poorvi Bhana, Bongani Kunene, Isaac Molelekoa, Mandienkosi Nhlapo. Playing sitar, cello, violin and drums they created a score and soundscape that varied from melancholy to rapture. The live music was a vital addition that enriched the dance.

Maqoma says "I am a South African dancer, I sell exotic stories to survive." Then he began shaking his bottom and slapping his buttocks. Is this the exotic story? Or is the reenactment he did of Michael Jackson's famous dance moves the exotic story? Between the storytelling and lush joyous dancing the audience is left with many questions about how to understand his world. Maqoma's Beautiful Me takes the audience on a glorious journey into his complex mind. We still have a lot to learn about contemporary dance from Africa.

The performance at the Bates Dance Festival was the premiere show of a US tour which is a project of The African Contemporary Arts Consortium.

Schaeffer Theater, Lewiston Maine, Friday October 16

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