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The irrevocable importance of Vuyani

Michelle Constant, who worked closely with Gregory Maqoma and Vuyani Dance Theatre during her tenure as CEO of Business and Arts South Africa (BASA), pays tribute to the dance company.

Gregory Maqoma Vuyani Dance Theatre Ketima

Chilean author Pablo Neruda once wrote: ‘To feel the love of people we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those we do not know… that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things. That exchange,’ he refers to receiving a gift from a child who was a stranger to him, when he, himself, was a child, ‘brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all of humanity is somehow together… I have since left my words on the door of so many people who were unknown to me, people in prison, or hunted, or alone.’
     The idea of a precious offering to someone unknown, is sadly one that has lost some traction in today’s world of push, pull, grab and hustle capitalism. Yet this is, in fact, the role of the artist – they open themselves up, they expose themselves and then offer it to us in an audience, widening ‘the boundaries of our being.’ We may not know the artist personally, and yet the exchange is deeply personal. This is how it happens with Maqoma’s work, and by extension, VDT. Watching Maqoma perform in his works Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Boléro and Exit/Exist can be best described in Neruda’s words, as a gift – one that ‘settled deep inside… like a sedimentary deposit.’
     There are artworks that are transient, ethereal, lightly touching, gliding away when one tries to engage. Perhaps they are amusing and delightful but they never stay, a twinkling fairy light that fades, like the story of Tinkerbell. Maqoma’s work is different, it is the deep, ancient sediment made up of our ancestors and their stories that we continue to sift through, as we try to understand our life and our identity, our South Africanness and our humanity. 
     It is humbling to see how VDT survives and thrives, after decades. Much of it is supported by a bedrock of excellent and sustainable models and partnerships, but more than this, the company offers work that is deeply meaningful, that continues to argue South Africa’s heritage and future identity. This is work that makes us proudly South African when it is performed internationally; work that stays with us, work that provides ‘the hooks that bind’ in the words of musician Grant Lee Buffalo. This is work that reminds us what we need, if we are going to survive the current onslaught of fake news and propaganda, nationalists and climate deniers. This is work that we need now, more than ever.

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