Sunday, November 3, 2013


Above and below:
Dancer-choreographer Gregory Maqoma in Exit/Exist
(photos by John Hogg, courtesy of 651 Arts)

The bare, often terrible facts of war--and of the deeds of warriors--can be difficult to contemplate, let alone absorb. And yet the primal Warrior archetype lives on in human consciousness as a model of strength, exacting skill, dedication and sacrifice. "Warrior" is the way we think of all those who meet exceptional challenge with exceptional determination, ingenuity and fierceness. The tale of the vanquished Warrior grabs our hearts as we contrast the inherent dignity of the heroic figure with the reality his or her defeat.

In Exit/Exist, recently presented by 651 Arts at LIU Brooklyn's Kumble Theater, South African dance artist Gregory Maqoma (Vuyani Dance Theatre) brings us an archetypal impression of the revered 19th Century Rharabe Xhosa warrior, Chief Jongumsobomvu Maqoma. No history lesson, this fantasia instead offers inspiration, bringing into awareness--willing into existence--the warrior we need to see. Music composed by guitarist Giuliano Modarelli and songwriter Simphiwe Dana--performed live by Modarelli and South Africa's sublime vocal ensemble Complete--contributes a heady, deep gorgeousness of harmony and propulsion.

Maqoma first emerges out of the darkness of the stage, as if conjured from the smoke of incense, a man in a modern-day suit of silvery cloth. Dancing with his back to us, he reaches out to strum an imaginary instrument as Modarelli, hidden behind a scrim, plays the notes. The dancer's shoulders and arms and knees twitch rhythmically, percussively; at times, the end of his jacket swirls back and forth across his hips. His fingers writhe like firing nerve endings, and we feel--knowing without conscious knowledge--that the spirit of the ancestral warrior inhabits him. He has been chosen, as the projected text says of the great chief, "to walk through the storm" and tell the story. The story of how Maqoma went from boy to man, from king to visionary, defending his land and culture from the ravages of British colonialism. A story ending in the prison of Robben Island where, a century ahead, a new hero, Nelson Mandela, would also be held.

Gregory Maqoma in Exit/Existwith members of Complete in background
(photo by John Hogg, courtesy of 651 Arts)
Exit/Exist is sacred ceremony, every detail perfected, in a place of wishful, constructed memory. Over the course of this powerful and stirring performance, the dancer will veer between Maqoma now and Maqoma then; in one segment, two Maqomas (the living one portrayed by one of the singers) repeatedly whirl beyond reach of each other's grasp.

"Is there still a tale to tell?" the projected text asks, late in the piece, when we have witnessed the captive warrior's grief. "Who will tell it? Where will it start?" Maqoma's telling consists of dancing that mixes tradition into a stew of contemporary movement and theatricality. More than that, it is powered by the masterful, endlessly inventive musicality of Maqoma's dancing--his exact touch--and the charisma of this natural-born star.

Coming to Los Angeles

See Exit/Exist in Los Angeles, November 7-10, at REDCAT. For information and tickets, click here.

Gregory Maqoma's North American tour is produced by MAPP International Productions in partnership with The Africa Contemporary Arts Consortium.

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