Dance icon Exit(s) stage to Exist in choreography

International artist now to focus fulltime onproducing shows

Internationally renowned choreographer and dancer, Gregory Maqoma.
Internationally renowned choreographer and dancer, Gregory Maqoma.
Image: Supplied.

As internationally acclaimed dancer Gregory Maqoma leaves dance to focus on choreography 33 years after his journey started, he pays homage to all people who have contributed to his career. 

Maqoma, one of the black dancers who made great strides in the art, is saying goodbye to the stage as he turns 50 on October 16.

Having spent many years dancing and creating works, Maqoma wants to focus on mentoring and doing things he always wanted to do. 

In the 33 years, he has had a colourful career creating dancing works while establishing his profile both locally and internationally. Maqoma, who now owns Vuyani Dance Theatre Company in Newtown, Joburg, has won international accolades and contributed immensely to the development of dance among black communities.

It was for such reasons that Joburg Theatre inducted his name last year in the Hall of Fame. Maqoma plans to exit the stage with a banger starting this weekend with a performance of his favourite piece, Exit/Exist. 

Speaking to Sowetan this week, Maqoma explains that he brought back the dance piece to celebrate 50-year milestone as he begins to quit his dance journey. As much as he is exiting stage, Maqoma has bookings all over the world until the end of 2024.

Dancer and choreographer Gregory Maqoma. File photo
Dancer and choreographer Gregory Maqoma. File photo
Image: Daniel Rutland Manners

This week he presents Exit/Exist, a solo work in which he honours his ancestors and great-grandfather chief Jongumsobomvu Maqoma. The show is on until Sunday at the Market Theatre. From then, he is heading to the National Arts Festival in Makhanda, Eastern Cape, to grace the stage for the last time. 

“For me, it is a bigger reason that I brought back this piece. For me the issue of land is still a big matter.  It was only last year that there were talks about naming Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape after my great-grandfather [Jongumsobomvu Maqoma]. But I was asking myself, how would that make any difference when people still do not own the land. This piece is a reminder of the issue of land that we tend to sweep under the carpet 150 years after his passing. 

“As I exit on stage, there is no better way to pay homage to those who have been here before me. I have worked with many people in the industry and I want to say thank you. When I do this dance piece I feel I am connected to my ancestors. It has been incredible and I love collaborations because you cannot just create work alone. You need to be among thinkers who bring something different to enhance the piece.” 

However, Maqoma is not ruling out a possibility that if something pulls him back, he will return. According to Maqoma’s closest friends, he has been saying he is retiring for the past 10 years and this time they hope it will be for real. 

“I have been doing both creative work and dancing. Dancing requires a lot... you need to run and go to the gym to keep fit. I have been doing that for years. However, as I continue to create work you never know, the universe can pull me back. I am really at my peak as a performer, and it is the perfect time to leave dancing. I have no regrets. I am looking back with pride.

“I have travelled and been consistent when it comes to my work. I achieved that by being true to my craft and forever hungry for new things. As I will be celebrating 50 years, I will be on a flight to New York to perform because when a lot of people heard that I was quitting dance, they wanted me to do it for them for the last time.” 

The dance piece, which infuses music, installation and narration, reflects and explores the memory and legacy of chief Maqoma, one of the most renowned Xhosa leaders who was born in 1798, arrested when he ordered the English colonisers to release Xhosa land, and died on Robben Island in 1873. 

“The core of this piece is memory; rephrasing the notion of existence and the notion of simply existing in order to exist. This production takes a moment to pause to look back and to rewind the tape to the days when the tapestry of South Africa was about the collision of biographies. I hope the piece will evoke the spirit of the time.” 

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