Renowned dancer, choreographer, creative, and teacher, Gregory Vuyani Maqoma, has announced his plans to gracefully bow out of the dance floor as he approaches the golden age of 50. With a career that has garnered worldwide recognition, Maqoma has left an indelible mark on the world of dance, earning him a well-deserved place among the greats.

By Edward Tsumele

The illustrious Gregory Maqoma, a recipient of numerous awards, is bidding adieu to the dance floor as he reaches the golden age of 50. And he is not just bowing out quietly – he is going out with a bang! Maqoma is set to showcase his highly acclaimed choreographic masterpiece, Exit/Exist, at both the Market Theatre and the National Arts Festival in Makhanda.

The fact that he has decided to exit the dance floor by way of staging this internationally critically acclaimed production Exit/Exist is a quiet poignant moment in recent dance history. It is the end of a dance era for Maqoma who ruled both the local and international dance floors for years and has always impressed dance audiences wherever he performed. The production is as deeply intense as it is very personal as the artist pays tribute to his late ancestor.

“Gregory Maqoma is 50 years old on 16 October 2023. He honours this journey with a work that is sentimental to him. A season of Exit/Exist will be returning to the Market Theatre from 22 – 25 June 2023 and the National Arts Festival from 27 – 28 June 2023.

“This performance is one of the last performances as Maqoma retires from dancing as he wraps up current works and hands them over successively. Fifty-strong, Maqoma has been a catalyst of change in the artistic industry, breaking new ground, addressing existing stereotypes and speaking against injustices in the sector.

“Through his award-winning storytelling, Gregory has introduced the world to characters and storylines that have captured the zeitgeist of history and remain resonant to this day.

“Exit/Exist is a sensitive solo work which will make a return to The Market Theatre for a four-day season during the month of June. This piece still resonates with South Africa as we continue to weave through the necessary discourse of land as a nation. It reflects and explores the memory and legacy of Maqoma’s ancestor, Chief Jongumsobomvu Maqoma, one of the most renowned Xhosa leaders, who was born in 1798, arrested when he ordered the English colonisers to liberate Xhosa land and died in Robben Island in 1873,” the Market Theatre said in a statement.

The core of this piece is memory; rephrasing the notion of existence and the notion of simply existing in order to live. This production takes a moment to pause; to look back; to rewind the tape to the days when the tapestry of South Africa was about the collision of biographies.

A deliberate choice of less exposition and a bigger emphasis on how we use the visual element to tell this tale while underpinning the musicality, that we hope will evoke the spirit of the time. Chief Maqoma to us is not only an iconic figure of Xhosa land, but a figure of historical transformation, the custodian of the movement of a people that cleared the path to an emancipation that he spent his whole life advocating, fighting and yearning for.

Under the direction of James Ngcobo, Maqoma choreographs Exit/Exist accompanied on stage by four South African singers and a guitarist Giuliano Modarelli, who all help facilitate the telling of the story through their harmonious vocals.

The musical collaboration from Simphiwe Dana, Giuliano Modarelli and I Complete carries Gregory through this solo performance. David Tlale designs costumes into masterpieces of art which edifies the narration of the story Maqoma is telling.

“The return of Exit/Exist at the Market Theatre where it was first premiered in 2012 is not only befitting to the extraordinary journey I have taken so far but marks 150 years since the passing of my ancestor, Chief Maqoma. The issue of land, emphasised in the work, is a trail of human misery and degradation, loss and hope,” shares Maqoma.

As he retires from dancing, Maqoma believes his legacy is one of telling ground-breaking stories as a way of social commentary contributing to South Africa’s narrative and proudly the world over. It has been fifty years of firsts, fifty years of learning, fifty years of anguish and frustration, but most importantly it has been fifty years of Gregory Vuyani Maqoma being alive.

The staging of Exit/Exist in Johannesburg and Makhanda is the result of a joint effort between the Market Theatre, the National Arts Festival, and the Department of Sports Arts and Culture, with Vuyani Dance Theatre serving as the producer.

Maqoma In brief

Hailing from the vibrant streets of Soweto, Gregory Vuyani Maqoma was born on October 16, 1973. As a young man, he found solace in the art of dance, using it as a means to escape the political turmoil that plagued his hometown. In 1990, he began his formal dance training at Moving Into Dance, where he honed his craft and eventually rose to the position of Associate Artistic Director in 2002.

Today, Maqoma is a force to be reckoned with in the world of dance, having made a name for himself as a renowned dancer, choreographer, teacher, director, and scriptwriter. In 1999, he founded the Vuyani Dance Theatre (VDT) while studying at the prestigious Performing Arts Research and Training School (PARTS) in Belgium, under the tutelage of the legendary Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. –

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