Written by Motlatsi Motseoile
A global career in dance and theatre is not the typical route for boys from Soweto, but Gregory Vuyani Maqoma has managed to pull it off with finesse. Greg Maqoma is a dancer, choreographer, playwright, creative director and entrepreneur – whose work is both loved and respected across the globe. An alumnus of the iconic Moving Into Dance, he founded his own Vuyani Dance Company which has produced his finest work. From recent work such as Third World Express, the popular Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero, to Exit/Exist – his work evokes emotion, spirituality and reflection on socio-politics and current affairs, relying on creative flair and genius.
“I’ve always seen dance as a vehicle to negotiate many elements of the artistic landscape. Dance has given me the freedom to express my ambitions but also as a vehicle to communicate as a response to my immediate circumstances. Over the years dance has been the stepson of many art forms, used as a support for many artists, I’ve always wanted to change that narrative and use dance as a leading form that brings together different art forms,” Maqoma says. His work has managed to weave in literature, film, fashion and music while centering dance as a main discipline. This is evidenced in his work such as his collaboration with Simphiwe Dana in the emotive Moya – which brings together music, dance and fashion to the live stage. In a world that often forces queer artists to either hide their queer identity or put it at the back burner – Maqoma has managed to succeed globally without compromising his queer self.
“My queerness has never been an issue or an obstacle but my focus has been on the work, it shines in all that queerness brings, the sophistication, the pain and joy,” he reflects. Maqoma’s success has inspired and mentored many young dancers and particularly propelled queer dancers to believe that success is possible for them as well. Of this, he says, “I think it is fabulous that more and more queer artists and sportsmen are coming out to embrace who they are but more to embrace what they do and be able to offer and that is power for me. I would not want to take credit for opening the door for others to follow through, but I would say that in my space I have allowed queer artists to find comfort and be able to express themselves without fear of being prejudiced.”
With the local arts landscape having always felt unsupported, his ability to draw audiences locally and adoration abroad, he agrees that more can be done to support and promote local art and artists. “Local is lekker – we need to remind ourselves about that and celebrate our own first before the world. We need to love ourselves and one another in that way we become a remarkable force that not only translates in our liberal constitution but in how we treat each other. When we celebrate our own, we allow others from other countries to be envious and therefore growing our market reach. I enjoy performing to my South African audience because there is an immediate connection and I don’t have to work hard to break the wall. Home must love you in order to have reason for existence.”
With a career spanning almost three decades, his legacy is that of a visionary, a daring creative and a leader. His advice to young queer artists is “… to fully embrace who they are in order to propel their career to greater heights, deal with the insecurities before you can deal with the work.”