Arts Alive – Dance Umbrella: When goog guys fly

2014-08-31 15:00

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It’s flu season and Gregory Maqoma is fighting a cold, he says, when I apologise for my own fever-riddled questions.

I reply that it can’t be easy for a ­dancer?– getting sick. At least I can work from home.

In the strained world of South African ­contemporary dance, the show must go on ­despite flu, poor audiences, minimal budgets and not enough rehearsal time.

“It’s not easy for anyone who has to be on stage,” the dancer-choreographer says over the line from Cape Town in his quiet, kind, measured tone.

“I often have to do it sick. You’re flying a lot and there’s always a change of weather and you never have time to rest.”

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that Maqoma is flying. He’s on top of his game, arguably the most celebrated South African choreographer of his generation. Maqoma is 40 today. I remember him as a young dancer just out of school. Back then, his ­classmate Vincent Mantsoe was the star of the DanceUmbrella and took Maqoma with him as he won awards and began to travel.

Maqoma was a maths and science whiz at school and was tormented over whether to give up university and pursue dance.

His parents put pressure on him to study medicine. Dance won.

“Passion empowered me,” he says.

Mantsoe settled in Europe and Maqoma based himself in Joburg.

It’s as much a sign of his success as it is the country’s failure to develop a strong contemporary dance audience that Maqoma and his Vuyani Dance Theatre Project have found themselves performing abroad more often than at home for the past few years.

But he intends to change that.

The choreography star is tired of whingeing. He’s rolled up his sleeves and has been focusing on developing grass roots audiences for contemporary dance?–?starting with schools.

“The whole reason I’m doing dance is to develop the next generation. To make dance relevant in education and in art as a means of expression.”

He is in Cape Town presenting a Vuyani work that’s part of the school syllabus. It deals with man’s impact on the environment.

Dancers shouldn’t just wait for government funding, Maqoma tells me. They must take ­responsibility and show government what the arts are about.

Our chat confirms an impression I’ve always had of Maqoma?–?that he’s one of the good guys.

His own art is best described?–?according to critic Adrienne Sichel?–?as a “cultural cocktail” that combines urban and traditional, African and Western forms.

His heritage ripples beneath the surface of his moves.

He met Spanish dancer-choreographer ­Roberto Olivan 16 years ago and they are now collaborating on Lonely Together, a highlight of the ArtsAliveDanceUmbrella next week. They bonded over a shared desire to develop dance at home.

In their new piece, they explore their own traditions and cultures, and how these affect their daily lives.

Culture is an inner voice, the piece says, a kind of loneliness, even in a crowd.

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