The South African premiere of the acclaimed new William Kentridge theatre work, The Head & the Load, is supported by RMB and FNB and comes to Joburg Theatre following its World Premiere at Tate Modern, with music composed and conceived by Philip Miller.
After a resounding opening at the Tate Modern in London in 2018 followed by sold-out shows in New York, Amsterdam and Germany, William Kentridge now brings The Head & the Load back home to South Africa. This internationally acclaimed exploration of Africa’s role in the First World War illuminates the untold story of the millions of black African porters who served — and in many cases died for — British, French and German battlefield forces. A play on the Ghanaian proverb “The head and the load are the troubles of the neck,” the historical significance of their crucial role in the conflict has remained largely unexamined for a century.
This exceptionally ambitious production runs across a purpose-built stage stretching 50 metres along the back of the Nelson Mandela Theatre with an intimate seating configuration for approximately 500 audience members. Featuring 38 performers, including actors Hamilton Dlamini, Nhlanhla Mahlangu, Mncedisi Shabangu, and Luc De Wit with vocalists Ann Masina and Joanna Dudley, The Head & the Load vividly brings history to life through a combination of music, text, dance, film projections, mechanized sculptures and shadow play.
It has been described by the international press as ‘A fiercely beautiful historical pageant’ (New York Times – Critics pick), ‘a masterpiece’ (★★★★★ London Evening Standard) and ‘electrifying’ (★★★★★ The Independent).
The Head & the Load sees Kentridge reunited with longtime collaborator Philip Miller, one of South Africa’s leading composers, together with co-composer and music director Thuthuka Sibisi, and choreographer and principal dancer Gregory Maqoma from Vuyani Dance Company, to create what the artist describes as “an interrupted musical procession”. This rich and multi-layered performance features an international cast of singers, dancers and performers, with a majority from South Africa. Miller’s powerful and evocative score is performed by an ensemble cast of extraordinary singers and musicians drawn from across the globe – South Africa, Guinea, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy – offering a perfect complement to Kentridge’s imaginative work.
Speaking about the production Kentridge said; “The Head & the Load is about Africa and Africans in the First World War, that is to say about all the contradictions and paradoxes of colonialism that were heated and compressed by circumstances of the war. It is about historical incomprehension (and inaudibility and invisibility). The colonial logic towards the black participants could be summed up, ‘Lest their actions merit recognition, their deeds must not be recorded.’ The Head & the Load aims to recognize and record.”
Speaking in support of the production Bongiwe Njobe, Head of Social Investing for FirstRand, said; “We’re very pleased that our franchises RMB and FNB are collaborating to tell this important African story through The Head & the Load. Further, RMB Foundation’s support of the choreographer Gregory Maqoma, founder of Vuyani Dance Theatre, goes back at least 12 years. This production is a natural fit with the FirstRand Foundation’s track record of supporting education and leveraging the creative arts as a tool for social transformation.”
Joburg Theatre performances will be preceded by a range of audience development and education initiatives, including workshops at The Centre for The Less Good Idea and various community hubs around Gauteng to help frame and draw people into the conversation. These initiatives, alongside sponsored tickets, are key to reaching diverse communities across Johannesburg. Making the performances accessible to as many people as possible from the communities where it is most meaningful, is one of the main objectives in bringing this work to Africa.