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Don't miss Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero featuring Soweto Gospel Choir

29th August 19

Vuyani Dance Theatre’s Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero returns to Johannesburg in a ten day season at The Mandela at Joburg Theatre from 5 September until 15 September 2019. Accompanied by the Soweto Gospel Choir, this season forms part of the Vuyani Dance Theatre twentieth anniversary.
With his contemporary African dance company, Gregory Maqoma shares an innovative, visually stunning full-length work that brings literature to life. For this gala season at The Mandela at Joburg Theatre, the production will see twenty dancers and sixteen musicians on stage in an amplified production. In Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Boléro, Maqoma draws inspiration from creations by two artists: the character Toloki in South African author Zakes Mda’s novel Cion, and music from French composer Maurice Ravel’s Boléro.

Siyandiswa Dokoda (SD), Production and Marketing Manager for Vuyani Dance Theatre had conversations with Gregory Maqoma (GM), Oliver Hauser (OH) and Nhlanhla Mahlangu (NM) about the upcoming amplified season at The Mandela at Joburg Theatre of Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero.

SD: Can you share some light on the relationship between Zakes Mda’s book Cion and your dance production Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero?
GM: I first read Ways of Dying by the same author and was intrigued by the character of ‘Toloki’ the professional mourner. And how the author manages to take the character in the complex world of slavery in Cion inspired me to create the work weaving the two stories of the contemporary South Africa and American slavery (with a knowledge that this were Africans who were captured and sold as slaves to work at various plantations in America) In Cion I was fascinated by the story of the runaway slaves how motherly love pushed her children to find freedom in-spite of the risk of death should they be caught.  

SD: How did Zakes Mda react to you drawing inspiration from a character in his book? 
GM: When I first shared my thoughts to Prof Mda and asking for his permission and blessing to tackle the story and use the tittle of the same book Cion, his response was of a writer who writes for his work to find inspiration for others - and it was exactly that, his writing and vision and storytelling inspires a visual theatrical experience and films and why not dance? I also think what made it also a bit easier for our communication is that we both fans and supporters of each other’s works at one time he drove with his family across states from Ohio where he is based to come see my work Exit/Exist in North Carolina and always comments that he first saw my work as a students and was impressed by my take on complex subjects and empathy I carried at that young age, this must have been perhaps 25 years ago. 

SD: Tell us about the main character of the production and why you chose that character to drive the narrative of what you wanted to share in this production?
GM: Toloki is a professional mourner, a unconventional career and I feel mourning and death are very much part of rites of passage but so many atrocities in the world have led to many people dying senselessly and I wonder what happened to their spirits, their decency and the family grief. Toloki takes us on a journey to find healing and to mourn the death of those died not as a natural phenomenon but by actions of others. We all been turned into professional mourners each day we lose someone we love, each day somewhere in the world through religion, power and greed many die often running. 

In a review of Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero at the Marseille Festival, Helmet Vogt writes, “The dance of the Vuyani Dance Theatre is powerful and generous. The sets offer pulsations like cries in a ceaseless march, on the spot, which seems to cross Africa. This march is the home port of the show, the place where we come back, like the mythical notes of Ravel. Exile and colonization present themselves to us in the dance gestures, like two combatants dueling. The excellent dancers, from different generations and different bodies form a homogeneity which often appears to support hip-hop colour solos where the body is jerky, riddled with stories. The steps are back or front offering hip agility bluffing.
The allegories are numerous in this show with very classic form. Slavery, dictatorship, the oppression of Africans, everything is symbolized by a voracious dance that sometimes lets the upper body move on supports screwed to the ground. The torsos extended by the arms undulate in a physical reference to the theme of the Bolero.”

Lighting and set design play an integral role in setting the mood for a production and giving it visual context. The original lighting plan was designed by award winning Mannie Mannim with Oliver Hauser the current Technical Director understudying him. Oliver also had a conversation with Siya Dokoda about the upcoming season.

SD: What skills are necessary for a person in your position? 
OH: The technical director is usually responsible for the overall organization of the technical production process. The TD's duties include generating necessary working drawings for construction; budget estimations; materials research and purchasing; scheduling and supervising crew and coordinating load-ins and load-outs. In venues that host touring productions, the TD is usually responsible for distributing the productions the technical rider, co-ordinating local crew, renting additional equipment and liaising between the tour manager and the local crew.
To start as a set designer you must have creative and imaginative ideas. Expressing these ideas through technical drawing and model making all while working under pressure to meet deadlines is essential. Always remember to research, research, research. Inspiration is key.

SD: What are the design elements that are stand out features in this production? 
OH: The textured plastic bag backdrop plays a large role in setting the landscape of the production. The idea was to transport the audience to a magically realistic realm. Zakes Mda's book Cion doesn't clearly state where the story takes place, I wanted to create a cemetery with a surreal landscape that could help stimulate the audience's imagination.

SD:What was it like working with Mannie Mannim who designed the original lighting plan for this show? 
OH: ​Mannie is, in my opinion, one of the greatest theatrical LD's in South Africa, I have always looked up to him. I filled in as his lighting programmer for the premiere of CION at the Market Theatre. What stood out most was his attention to detail, his ability to time moments perfectly and create an atmosphere without unhinging the performance.

SD: Why do you think theatre productions like Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero are important? 
OH: They help teach a new generation of theatre goers about the possibilities of storytelling through dance.

SD: How are you feeling about reimagining the show on a bigger stage with more musicians and dancers on stage? Can you share some of the ideas you already have to amplify the production? ​
OH: The idea is to create a larger visual environment without compromising the intimacy of the production. There are some incredibly tender moments that I don't want to lose on this massive stage, this is the true challenge.

The music in Cion: Reqiem of Ravel’s Bolero plays a very important role in helping to drive the narrative and emotions of the piece. Nhlanhla Mahlangu speaks about the music process.

SD: What’s challenging about bringing this music to life?
NM: The challenge I had as a composer was to understand Ravels Bolero, respect what the music stands for and make a South African interpretation using vocals only.

SD: Why did you want to be involved in this production?
NM: This is an ongoing journey that I have been walking with Gregory Maqoma for the past twenty years, we continue to discover and re discover our purpose as artists and who wants to say No to Gregory Maqoma

SD: Can you share about the process of creating the unique music in this production and what were the inspirations?
NM: Isicathamiya, Clap and tap, amahubo wesizulu and Zion church music - these are my tools and as an experienced dance practitioner I also use movement as inspiration for sound

SD: What has the reception been to the music as the production has been to numerous European festivals?
NM: The response has been overwhelming recently CION worn the audience choice award at the HOLLAND Festival 

SD: What will the audience be thinking about in the car as they drive home after this show?
NM: I think they will be astonished like I was when I saw it for the first time but we can’t dictate how people must feel 

SD: How will the added voices from Soweto Gospel choir Amplify bring something new to this story?
NM: I know that I have to reimagine the whole thing and i am waiting to be surprised myself I don't dictate the process.

After gracing the stages of numerous European festivals, Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero returns to Johannesburg audiences for a ten day season. A rousing dance theatre work that stands for hope against the darkness.

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Tickets are available at Webtickets from R100 - R350.
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