A production by celebrated choreographer Gregory Maqoma and the 20-year-old Vuyani Dance Theatre is always a thing. Then add literary legend Zakes Mda and the Soweto Gospel Choir and you have a major cultural event.
This week City Press went along to the rehearsals of Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Boléro in Johannesburg to witness the incredible fusion of 20 dancers, 16 musicians – including an isicathamiya troupe – Mda’s character from his novels Ways of Dying and Cion, Toloki, danced by Maqoma to epic choral and classical sounds.
We were stunned and predict a hit when the show, which has returned from Europe for a gala run at the Joburg Theatre from September 5 to 15, hits the stage.
Toloki is a professional funeral mourner and Maqoma has foregrounded the theme of death and oppression with a work designed to let in the light of healing.
We hit Bra Zakes up in Ohio in the US, to ask him what he appreciates the most about Maqoma.
“His genius. And I don’t use the word lightly. I have followed his work since he was a student. When he is in the US I make it a point to go there, sometimes driving for 12 hours to reach the venue.”
Not to be outdone, we asked Maqoma the same question about Mda. “He is one of our very accomplished writers who continues to write novels that give inspiration to other creative minds. I am deeply moved by his work,” he said.
Maqoma also wanted us to note the work done by musical director Nhlanhla Mahlangu. “He wrote the score that is inspired by Ravel’s Boléro and seeing how Soweto Gospel Choir is interpreting the music ... making the work land in the hearts of people and manage to leave both a smile and tear. I could never have chosen a better work to mark 20 years of Vuyani and to show our country the power of art and the possibility of the future.”
Mda says he will be going to see Cion when it shows in New York in January. Then we asked him what Toloki would get up to if there was to be a third novel.
“Are you trying to tempt me to write another novel? Get thee behind me! I told you The Zulus of New York was my last novel because, frankly, physically I am not up to the next one.
“But I also told you a writer never says never! Only yesterday I was attacked by a story demanding that I write it, featuring the same Toloki,” he said.
“[It’s] set in Lesotho, Welkom and Klerksdorp among the Basotho accordion music groups which have been involved in a number of gang wars and killings, and in illegal mining – in real life.
“But I am ignoring this story, hoping it won’t overpower me,” said Mda.