Search and Hit Enter

Life: a dance between heaven and hell

Click arrows or swipe left or right to go through slideshow above: Vuyani Dance Theatre perform Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero at The Mandela Theatre in Johannesburg, accompanied by the Soweto Gospel Choir. Photographs: JOHN HOGG

Gregory Maqoma’s Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero pulls you in and holds you close as you bear witness to wave upon wave of grief. Dance styles with references across time and space – from breakdance to contemporary ballet and gumboot dancing and from the mines of Egoli to America – talk to the universally human, often unexplainable and inarticulate experience of loss.

Performed by Vuyani Dance Theatre, the production, which has enjoyed success around the globe, is on at Baxter theatre for just three nights (until March 23, 2024).

Like Cion, the Zakes Mda novel that inspires it, this show talks to the universal human experience of grief and – to an extent – redemption.  Like Mda’s earlier work, Ways of Dying, Cion features Toloki, a professional mourner who weeps in graveyards, lamenting the many deaths of a community ravaged by violence and Aids. In the novel, he emigrates to the US, where he encounters a different kind of loss in the consequences of slavery.

Weeping, wailing, dancing, hurting … the bodies fall apart and come together in an evocation of wave after wave of grief. It might be hard to imagine having a full and happy heart in the midst of this but mine was bursting with delight at the brilliance of the telling of a story for which words could never be enough.

The dances between the mourners and spirits, the bereaved and the ancestors are often other-worldly, frequently brutal, always riveting. This production is “out of this world”, in all senses of the phrase. Costumes are by BlackCoffee, set design and technical direction is by Oliver Hauser, with lighting design by Mannie Manim and sound design by Ntuthuko Mbuyazi.

The dancers come together and fall apart, clinging to each other and conniving against each other in quick succession. People are connected and then they are isolated, alone with their pain. A reminder of how reason, dignity and grace can disappear into thin air at times of shock and loss … at a graveside, for example.

Gregory Maqoma is a genius. So, too, is Nhlanhla Mahlangu, the musical director and composer.

The intensity is magnified by the sobbing and the wailing, the moaning and the howling and the Isicathamiya, the haunting cappella verse, sung mostly in African languages. And then there is Ravel’s Bolero, which is woven through everything, always building to a crescendo, as only it can do. This adaptation of that extraordinary and timeless piece stays so true to it and is so familiar, while completely reinventing it.

The references in Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero are wide and varied. The crosses a relic of colonialism, the verse mostly in the vernacular, the beat-boxing and break-dancing seeming to come from the US, the white gloves not the only time that Michael Jackson was brought to mind. But the feeling, the truth and the lessons are universal.

We are always stuck somewhere between hell and heaven, but we are not alone.

Cion: Requiem for Ravel’s Bolero is on at The Pam Golding Theatre at The Baxter for three performances only from 21 to 23 March 2024 at 7.30pm. Ticket prices are between R180 and R200 and booking is through Webtickets online or at Pick n Pay stores.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Annette Brooks
Annette Brooks
4th April 2024 6:27 am

I am enjoying, so much, the easy read. Keep writing, I so appreciate the candid, simplicity of your writing style. Thank you

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x