"As a black African dancer, I am constantly expected to conform to stereotypical perceptions of the Western world and of African traditionalists. Africa is widely perceived on the one hand as a war zone ravaged by the Aids pandemic and poverty and on the other hand as exotic, colourful and primitive.
"As a black African dancer, I am constantly expected to conform to stereotypical perceptions of the Western world and of African traditionalists. Africa is widely perceived on the one hand as a war zone ravaged by the Aids pandemic and poverty and on the other hand as exotic, colourful and primitive. I propose to deconstruct this stereotype through my personal history, my work as a performer and choreographer living in a city and my research on urban popular contemporary intercultural dance forms."
Gregory Maqoma soars and swoops like a bird, his hands fluttering. He is moulding a story, his own story, taking his audience with him. At times he stops to speak and you can see in his heaving chest the real effort of those delicate movements. The South African teaches with the same gentleness that shows in his dance. His philosophy is that everyone needs to find ownership of their personal dance.
According to Maqoma, the body is an instrument to be tuned, so that the person can explore and grow. Renee Liang interviewed Maqoma by email ahead of his Auckland Arts Festival performance of Beautiful Me.
How does your fusion of many dance forms - ballet, contemporary pop and indian kathak, among others - enable you to explore your personal voice in dance?
I have treated my body as a museum that collects many forms and aesthetics that come with their histories, traditions and they allow me to explore in return my own history and cultural identity while at the same time I am responding to my own circumstances and raising my opinions and the opinions of others about the world, leadership, politics and humanity. This cultural acceptance of the other in my body is part of my evolving culture that knows no boundaries but assets itself in the now while still referring to the past as link to the future.
Your work incorporates live music as well as spoken word and elements of theatre. Do you see yourself as a dancer, or a performance artist?
I see myself as an artist, as I don’t express myself through movement only, but I also express my opinions through seminars and lecture residencies around the world, I guess a true artist cant just be defined in one form, an artists encompasses the full meaning of ART.
Wherever you go, you teach - what are some of the things you've learnt from students, over the years?
The best lessons I have taken with me in all this years has been with my encounters with students and mainly students who have little experience of dance, their transitory nature to the form and ideas of what dance is, leaves me with great aspiration to return to a point of nothing because that is where we are most vulnerable and honest. When I create work I always think of such encounters.
Your work is highly charged emotionally, attempting to achieve a really personal connection with audience. What are some of the ways you do this?
I break the fourth wall, I get as close to my audience as possible and it is not space closeness but its by feeling, I want to be one with my audience, I invite them by opening all doors and scrapping away all conventions for them to feel safe with me. When they are safe with me, im safe with them, therefore we can begin to negotiate on all levels.
Gregory Maqoma: Beautiful Me
Auckland Arts Festival