The stars have aligned for Gregory Maqoma, award-winning South African creative director, producer and dancer.
After two months working on the making of ‘Glow, the Vogue Opera’ – a story that follows the journey of gay icon Simon Nkoli and his struggle with society – Maqoma heard that he was the Feather Award winner of the Simon Nkoli award for 2022. “It is an honour I accept with much humility and grace. Simon’s story is for all who suffer prejudice – it is not only a story of a gay man but of all humanity. Just like the story of Tata Mandela for which I have the privilege to choreograph ‘Mandela, a new musical’ at the Young Vic in London. That is a story of a man who fought for justice and ensured that our Constitution included rights for all humanity, making the South African Constitution one of the most liberal in the world,” says Maqoma.
“Simon’s story touched me deeply and I wanted to contribute to the fight for justice for men and women who continue to face prejudice and intolerance. The award recognises my fight for equality in the world and my contribution to the defence of LGBQT+ rights by cautiously addressing issues in my artistic work.”
That announcement was his first birthday surprise. The second was another accolade for his work ‘Black Sun’, commissioned by Ballet Black, which was awarded Best Dance Production by the Black British Awards. The piece incorporates classical and contemporary dance “to suggest the intense struggle and rewards of being connected to a bodily ancestral memory, both personal and collective.” The description appears in a glowing New York Times review of Maqoma’s work which notes the way fellow South African Mthuthuzeli November “drums and sings with great power, jumping and skittering in one spot, as the dancers respond, physically and vocally, to his invocation.”
Maqoma explains that ’Black Sun’ came about because of the success of ‘Hope’, a five-minute solo he created on November as part of Ballet Black’s ‘Eightfold’ dance film. (November is an award-winning choreographer in his own right, winning the coveted Lawrence Olivier award for best dance production and Black British Theatre awards for best dance production 2020.) Maqoma was then invited to create a 30-minute ballet, ‘Black Sun’, which is about “coming face to face with our ancestors, those who walked this planet before us. It’s a story of humanity at odds with itself, facing trials and tribulations – requiring a community to bend together in song and dance,” says Maqoma.
Meanwhile, ‘Mandela, a new musical’ tells the story of Mandela before he became known worldwide as a political prisoner. “Before that, he was a family man. The musical highlights his family connection and all that was lost when he was in prison,” says Maqoma. “It is being created with the full support of the Mandela family, who have given us creative license, which is incredible.”
The choreography aims to tap into the collision of cultures to create a movement language representing all that Mandela stood for.
“Every project I undertake is an extension of my life politically and culturally and all these projects tap into my cultural lineage through autobiographical stories. Their story is mine too,” says Maqoma. “I feel incredibly lucky to have continued to work despite the threat of Covid-19 and, most importantly, to have been able to create jobs for artists in desperate need of work.