Vuyani Dance Theatre – Going back to go forward


2019 marks twenty years of Vuyani Dance Theatre (VDT) (under the #Vuyani20) the only full-time black founded dance and theatre institution and company to survive the trials and tribulations facing the arts, not only survive but grow to become a leader in the field of dance education, performance and choreography.

"Beautiful Me" choreographed and performed by Gregory Vuyani Maqoma. Photograph : John Hogg.
“Beautiful Me” choreographed and performed by Gregory Vuyani
Photograph : John Hogg.

Vuyani Dance Theatre was established in 1999 as a catalyst for a cultural awakening in our country and to give black artists in particular, given our painful history, a space to unleash their creative potential. Over the years the company has established a footprint with a reach of more than one hundred cities around the world. VDT produces award-winning artists and productions including two Standard Bank Young Artists for Dance, the inaugural Sophie Mgcina Emerging Artist Award, Tunkie Award for Leadership in Dance, seven Gauteng MEC Awards for choreography and dance, New York City Bessie Award and recently The Chevalier Des Arts Et Letters (Knight of the Arts and Literature award) by the French Government.

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In celebrating the twentieth anniversary the company will be looking back at the pillars that have led to the success Vuyani has enjoyed. Beautiful Me, one of Maqoma’s early works will be performed at the Holland Festival on the 11th and 12th June 2019. This piece is Maqoma’s investigation of identity in relationship to history, humanity and nature. A cocktail of movement, text and music contributed by three master choreographers who have had great influence on him: Akram Khan’s Contemporary Kathak; Faustin Linyekula’s visual dance-theatre; and Vincent Mantsoe’s Afro-fusion, layering these distinct and diverse styles with his own unique lightness and humour under the direction of Gerard Bester.

'Exit/Exist' concept and choreography by Gregory Maqoma and Vuyani Dance Theatre. Photograph: John Hogg/Dance Umbrella.
‘Exit/Exist’ concept and choreography by Gregory Maqoma and Vuyani Dance Theatre.
Photograph: John Hogg/Dance Umbrella.

Exit/Exist, the international award-winning work performed in multiple cities across 5 continents to great acclaim, returns to the Market Theatre during Africa Month in May (9 – 19 May). Exit/Exist is a dance and music theatrical work paying homage to the painful journey of Chief Maqoma who fought against the British Invasion in the Eastern Cape. Chief Maqoma was eventually captured and imprisoned at Robben Island where he died and was buried in 1883 under mysterious circumstances. Land and cattle were the currency of his time and history has taught us that without land our pride as a Nation is hugely compromised. By staging this work during Africa month, the company will be creating a dialogue around how the past is affecting our present.

Among other dialogues, the company will be hosting the Beyond 20 Talk, an opportunity for arts practitioners on the continent to come together to talk about shaping the next twenty years around funding trends and sustainability. An opportunity for funders and arts organisations to imagine and to create a scenario for 2040. The talk will be part of the #Vuyani20 celebrations along with a season at Joburg Theatre in September. Participating delegates and keynote speakers will come from the neighbouring, with the hope that the findings from the talks will guide and influence policy for the arts on the continent.

“CION: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero” choreographed by Gregory Maqoma in collaboration with the Market Theatre and inspired by Zakes Mda with choral score by Nhlanhla Mahlangu and Xolisiwe Bongwana. Costumes by BlackCofee’s Jacques van der Watt and performed by Vuyani Dance Company.
Photograph: John Hogg

Vuyani continues to tour the prolific Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero, a lament paying homage to those before us, who paved the way for our country’s democracy. Audiences can expect to see the production in the Czech Republic at Theatre World Brno in May; Theatre de Marseille (France) and Holland Festival (Amsterdam) in June; Dance Umbrella UK in October; and at the Prototype Festival (New York) and The Kennedy Centre (Washington DC) in January 2020. The work will also come back to Johannesburg during the #Vuyani20 celebrations in a season at Joburg Theatre, 5 – 15 September 2019.

“It is our belief that people born within the challenges of society can transcend and become the pillars of that society” – Gregory Maqoma, Founder and Executive Creative Director, Vuyani Dance Theatre.

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