Dance Review: Exit/Exist – Physical Poetry, Or Yearning For Yore


Bruce Dennill

Writer. Reader. Singer. Songwriter. Believer. Likes to learn.

All content by Bruce Dennill first published on pARTicipate, republished with permission.
Bruce Dennill


Exit/Exist / Directed by James Ngcobo / John Kani Theatre, Market Theatre, Newtown, Johannesburg

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Gregory Maqoma’s elegantly staged musing on the life and struggles of his ancestor, Xhosa leader Chief Jongumsobomvu Maqoma, has been performed a number of times around the world over many years, with this run being the final stop before the production is archived (for the time being, anyway).

The narrative plays out in a progression of separate but linked scenes, in which aspects of Chief Maqoma’s life are alluded to – the battles he fought, the importance of cattle in his life and culture, and the impact of his being imprisoned by the British (he was sent to Robben Island for protesting against colonial rule, and died there in 1873). Maqoma is the only dancer, and costumes are changed onstage, adding a couple of different layers of intimacy.

He is not alone on stage, however, even if it seems that way to begin with. A black screen suspended at the back of the stage becomes, when lit from the back, transparent enough that the presence of first a classical guitarist – Italian Giuliano Modarelli – and then a quartet of a capella singers is revealed.

In many dance pieces, the music serves mostly to provide the rhythm and to signal the general mood of the choreography. Here, by virtue of there being different voices – vocal and instrumental – from different traditions (much of the backing soundtrack is composed by fellow Xhosa artist Simphiwe Dana), there are other stories going on even as Maqoma remains the focus of the unfolding…

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