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By Bonginkosi Tiwane

Digital Journalist

Renowned dancer Gregory Maqoma ‘humbled’ by Human Rights award

Renowned dancer, choreographer and creative director Gregory Maqoma is humbled by the 2023 Artfluence Human Rights Award presented to him by the University of KwaZulu-Natal this past weekend.

“It’s humbling to be given this award as most of my work has been about culture and history,” Gregory Maqoma shared to The Citizen.

The award was presented to Maqoma by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in recognition of his work, which advances respect for human dignity, advocates for human rights and celebrates the human spirit.

“There are social things we still battle with as a society. The prejudice on the LGBTQI+, the killing of women and children. It’s things I can’t turn a blind eye to,” explains the artist.

Maqoma, an acclaimed creative who has a slew of projects under his belt and is the founder of the Vuyani Dance Academy in Newtown, Johannesburg, which he founded in 1999 with the intention of representing black bodies on stage.

An emotive weekend for Gregory Maqoma

The weekend was quite an emotive one for Maqoma, as his acclaimed play The Head & The Load, together with William Kentridge, was doing its last run at the Joburg Theatre.

Maqoma was responsible for the choreography on the production. The Head & The Load explored the roles of black African bodies through porters in World War I, whose contribution has almost been erased from history.

As great artists do, they take up the responsibility to tell stories which have been forgotten or intentionally left by the wayside-a testament to why he was bestowed the Human Rights award.

“These are the kinds of topic we must talk about. There should be reparations for those soldiers, some of whom were only given a jacket and a bicycle when they returned from war,” Maqoma says.

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As support for theatre keeps dwindling, the State Theatre announced a few years ago that they have been forced to collaborate with cinema chain Ster-Kinekor as a way of piquing people’s interest in the performing arts, by taking plays to the big screen, it’s encouraging that The Head & The Load attracted big crowds.

“We had a sold out season of 14 shows, hugely overwhelming to have people queuing for tickets and even willing to be on standby. Huge success,” the 49-year-old says.

No rest, more work

“I wish I could [rest] but when I work, I work two or three years ahead,” says Maqoma about the next project. The dancer who grew up in Soweto is due to fly out the country tomorrow, heading to Belgium to work on another production.

“The title of the show is White Box and I’ll be in Belgium for about six days to meet the creative team and start planning for the show,” explains Maqoma.

White Box is based on the Andrée’s Arctic balloon expedition of 1897, which was a failed effort to reach the North Pole, resulting in the deaths of all three Swedish expedition members, S. A. Andrée, Knut Frænkel, and Nils Strindberg.

Upon Maqoma’s return, he will be kept busy by the Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero show which will be showing at Durban’s Playhouse Theatre from the 26-28 May.

Other work that Maqoma is looking forward to sharing later in the year will be quite personal to him, as it will look at the life of his great-grandfather, Chief Maqoma, who was incinerated at Robbin Island 150 years ago.

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