By TAMMY BALLANTYNE
It’s rare to find a dance company these days reaching a milestone as momentous as 15 years of existence. Especially one espousing an Afro-infused contemporary dance technique. It is virtually impossible to find funding for companies such as this. Yet, through an inspired vision which has been implemented with attention to detail, a commitment to excellence and the forging of ever-innovative partnerships, Vuyani Dance Company (VDC), formerly Vuyani Dance Theatre, can shout from the rooftops about its achievements.
Whenever I meet with Gregory Maqoma (founder and executive director of VDC), I spend the time feeling enriched and re-ignited by his sheer passion and formidable dedication to dance in general and to his company in particular. Maqoma has made things work where others have failed; he has built on what started out as a tiny enterprise based on solo or duo works and now has a full-time professional company complete with interns who travel the world performing at various festivals and venues plus a thriving development programme.
He has been shrewd enough to seek partnerships; to find avenues that excite and interest corporates (he has built a relationship with De Beers through their Shining Light programme and advertising agency Moonshine came on board with his latest production as a result of this relationship); and he has mentored and trained a capable and hardworking administrative team to ensure continuity and a succession plan.
He readily admits that the three-year funding from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF), which comes to an end this year, allowed him the space and time to look at the master plan and put in place strategies that would see VDC survive into the future beyond this funding. Just as well, since the NLDTF has since altered its funding policies and companies can no longer access three-year grants.
He also maintains that the company’s corporate work and bigger productions bring in the required income to do the smaller projects that benefit his development programme and invest in younger choreographers such as his artistic director, Luyanda Sidiya. He pays tribute to Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) for continuing to encourage relationships between arts organisations and corporates.
At the moment, VDC is busily preparing for its gala opening of Full Moon, at the Joburg Theatre tonight (April 29). Maqoma notes that this is the first time the theatre will host a SA black contemporary dance company. To date, it is Maqoma’s most ambitious full-scale project yet and embraces a host of collaborators. It has taken more than a year of planning and a grand-scale marketing plan which is being rolled out with the assistance of Moonshine.
Maqoma said: “We had to decide what we were selling – the production or the company? There are strategic layers of information being released at different times, allowing for the public to experience the information in various ways. We have used the traditional means of posters but chosen very strategic on- and off-ramps for placement. Then we have a fabulous YouTube video showing a behind-the-scenes look at the rehearsals for the production. Plus we are very active on Facebook and Twitter.”
At the media launch, Maqoma explained more about the production: “Luyanda Sidiya brings his African choreographic hybrid aesthetic, which takes us deep into the cradle humankind. Together we are building a work that takes us on a human journey, present, past and future. According to the prophet Credo Mutwa, in every language in Africa the star is the bringer of knowledge or enlightenment. This visit to the stars is hoped to feed us with knowledge of the world we don’t know, the world we aspire to live in.”
Full Moon is cosmically inspired and references Maqoma’s interest in ecology and the unknown: “I want to tap into the way the Cirque du Soleil brand makes magic for audiences but to do it in our own unique way. It is a family production with original music performed live by the South African National Youth Orchestra,” said Maqoma.
The orchestra is celebrating 50 years and in a very special collaboration, composer Isaac Molelekoa, is being mentored throughout the process as the music is created and ultimately brought to life. In this way, his skills as composer and conductor ensure a legacy beyond a single production.
Declan Randall, long-time collaborator with Maqoma and lighting genius, returns from the UK to design the lighting and so continues a conversation that engages a particular way of seeing and receiving a contemporary dance work. Design label Black Coffee once again will produce costumes for the dancers while House of Queen will do the make-up and hair. Maqoma says this partnership is particularly exciting since they are pushing boundaries with body-painting, hair extensions and make-up.
Other collaborators include classically trained dancer Thoriso Magongwa and Jurgen Meekel who is creating the visuals. Gregory Alcan, former World, European and French Champion aerobic gymnast, will perform as the instigator of Evil and conduct workshops while he is in Johannesburg.
Maqoma admitted to a severe case of the nerves as “we negotiate this new space but I believe in our philosophy of working with the right people; developing ourselves and others and exposing our work to new and different audiences.”
Full Moon runs from April 30 April to May 11 2014 at the Joburg Theatre. Visit www.joburgtheatre.com for tickets. VDC is funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF). ClassicFeel magazine is the media partner. For more information, check out Vuyani Dance Company: (http://www.facebook.com/VuyaniDanceTheatre) on Facebook or @VuyaniTheatre (https://twitter.com/VuyaniTheatre) on Twitter.
Full Moon teaser: http://youtu.be/m-IVdSXUXWw