Broken Chord – Dance as history, identity, trauma and healing across borders

From Soweto and Johannesburg and through Belgium, France, Spain, London, Germany, Austria and Hungary, choreographer Gregory Maqoma is bringing Broken Chord to the Vancouver public.

Presented by DanceHouse and Vancouver New Music, the Canadian premiere of choreographer and performer Maqoma and musical director Thuthuka Sibisi’s Broken Chord will take the stage from Feb. 23 to 25 at the Vancouver Playhouse.

Four vocal soloists, the Vancouver Chamber Choir and Maqoma will share the stage to perform music and dance which will be an exploration of the life and legacy of The African Native Choir, a South African ensemble that toured the globe in the late 1800s.

More than ever, we need to dance with purpose, to remind the world that humanity still exist, says Gregory Maqoma. | Photo by Lolo Vasco

Dance as cathartic and healing

The Native Choir dates back to the 1890s. The choir travelled across the ocean to perform in Canada, America and Britain with the goal of raising funds for education. Similar to his channeling dance as a response to the political tension in his younger years, Maqoma stated that he was so moved by the faces of the original choir members and Thuthuka Sibisi’s music that he danced for over 45 minutes in the exhibition.

Broken Chord, he says, came to be through his ability to use dance as a cathartic, passionate and creative response to his visit to an exhibition of photos of the African Native Choir in the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.

“Answering the questions about the other – how they would have felt performing for their colonizer. Questions about migration, crossing borders and the question of the other, the inquisitive nature of a border crossing, ‘why are you here.’ That uncomfortable question, in a space that is not yours, who you are, why are you here, what do you want, how to deal with these questions,” says Maqoma.

Often the world of culture – dance and performing arts – fights for justice, challenging individuals to learn and re-evaluate their beliefs, perspectives and attitudes and bringing the world closer together.

“We must constantly fight [for justice] – that is what humanity is about, to find responsibility, hard work that needs to be done. [We] cannot escape it, to feel worth it, to deal with it through my work,” he says. “[We must] continue to have this discourse on migration, the other, borders, the decay of our own planet. This message needs to be amplified. We want peace, tolerance, a better world, a better society for the next generation without having to suffer. That is the drive. The atrocities being reported amplify the message.”

Dance as identity and connection

Through dance, Maqoma connects with his past and the challenges of apartheid.

Gregory Maqoma. | Photo by Moeletsi Mabe

“[My work is a] constant reminder of the trauma,” he says. “[Healing continues through] dance of survival, staying connected with home through song and dance. What gave them life continues to give life, and I can translate this to the audience.”

In his message about the upcoming International Dance Day (Apr. 29), Maqoma comments that even with progress, people are still in a time of tragedy and upheaval – whether it’s natural disasters, international conflict or challenges closer to home such as death, rejection and poverty. He makes an impassioned plea for people to find their humanity.

“More than ever, we need to dance with purpose, to remind the world that humanity still exists. Purpose and empathy need to prevail,” he says. “Our dance must give a strong signal to world leaders and those entrusted with safeguarding and improving human conditions. Our purpose is one that strives to change the world one step at a time.”

Maqoma believes that dance is freedom, and through that freedom, others can be freed from the entrapments they face in different corners of the world.

“Dance,” he says, “is not political but becomes political because it carries in its fibre a human connection and therefore responds to circumstances in its attempt to restore human dignity”.

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