For This Choreographer, the Traditional Is Contemporary

New York is getting to know the work of Gregory Maqoma, which borrows from Western and South African traditions.

Gregory Maqoma is bringing “Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Boléro” to the Joyce Theater.
Gregory Maqoma is bringing “Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Boléro” to the Joyce Theater.

Someone is weeping. You hear sobs, sniffles, the usual noises. Soon, though, the whimpering grows more elaborate, lengthening into song. The sound is beautiful and strange, yet perhaps the oddest thing about it is how a few notes sound familiar, as does the rhythm of a drum that softly joins in. Is this wailing person quoting Ravel’s “Boléro”?

He is. Which is less surprising if you know the name of this production: “Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Boléro.” Still, this is no ordinary “Boléro.” Ravel’s relentless orchestral crescendo has been rearranged in the South African style called isicathamiya, the a cappella song-and-dance form popularized by groups like Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

The whole production is South African. It borrows the first part of its title, and the character of a professional mourner, from a South African novel (“Cion” by Zakes Mda). But rather than telling a story, it functions as a danced requiem, one of stylized violence and choppily articulated motion reminiscent of hip-hop popping and locking.

Source: nytimes.com

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