Gregory Maqoma: Man is cattle and land, and the cattle and land are man. Oct 26, 2013

by Rosa Singer

Gregory Maqoma is an untethered soul.  Only in such a state of complete engulfment could a dancing body and being transmit so freely the profound truths and rich matters of identity expressed in Exit/Exist. So exquisitely he becomes Chief Maqoma of the Xhosa nation, his ancestor, and awakens us to his brave fight to defend land, cattle and identity against the British colonization of South Africa

Man is cattle and land, and the cattle and land are man.  Exit/Exist, takes us into this realm of materiality and relatedness that is fundamentally about our human nature, our psychosocial and ecological survival, and our spiritual evolution.  Chief Maqoma is the conduit –The hero but wounded warrior.  Gregory, the divine vocals of Complete Quartet and the guitar of Giuliano Modarelli are the light bearers.

Gregory’s expressive limbs so passionately kiss the space around him.  At one point in his movements and brilliant costuming he is transformed back and forth into Chief Maqoma, and then into the Chief’s beloved cattle, and again into Chief Maqoma. There is no separation.  It is cosmic, magical realism.  It is more engulfing than pages of Maladoma Patrice Solomé’s autobiography, Of Water and the Spirit, in which Maladoma is reconnected with his tribe, the Dugara people of Bukina Faso, and enters a trans-dimensional journey were self-identity transverses the tangible and intangible.  Some things are more real than what we commonly define as real.

These emerging and experiential themes intersect with the perils of power and inequity throughout the performance.  My heart plugged as Gregory enacted Chief Maqoma pounding the ground and grain – broken, trembling, grasping and alone – the horns of his cattle all that were left of their bodies and bones after the British prevailed.  His collapse into the loss transforms into shock and rage that courses through his body with an expressive and vacillating dance.   When the electricity of his anger finally dissipates, he surrenders his soul, which has been stripped naked and bears the rawness of his near nothingness.  On his knees he slowly moves to the front the stage, all the while beating his fist against his heart as if to resuscitate it.  Can we not relate? 

Then, we the audience, and holders of Chief Maqoma’s loss, are left with him in this unknown territory.  His only options are death of the spirit or resiliency, transformation and legacy.  He chooses the latter, and all the while in this delicate moment, he is accompanied by the riveting and soulful voice of Bongikosi Zulu, member of Complete Quartet, whose song plunges into a dark well and pulls up crystal, clean, cold water that quenches a thirst I did not even know I had.  (In fact, Bongikosi, what universe are you from?  Bless you.) 

An iconic performer will take the audience with him or her closer to “the source” because they express some form of universal truth, struggle and beauty that we all experience but cannot characterize or amplify alone.  Gregory Maqoma is that dancer, that performer, and ultimately Exit/Exist is absolutely superb.