Performing Arts: Dance
January 17, 2020
In a stunningly cinematic portrayal of life and death, The Prototype Festival presented Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Boléro. Conceived and choreographed by Gregory Vuyani Maqoma, this beautiful dance opera takes audience members on an original and fascinating journey through a seamless combination of movement and music.

Smoke fills the stage as the Joyce Theater is transformed into a sacred place of mourning. The space is scattered with the crosses of a graveyard, and the sound of a man moaning pierces the air. Dressed in green and grey robes and black tights, the singer is revealed to the audience in front of a cross on the ground. His sobs escalate to a scream-song that poignantly brings audience members to their darkest, most intimate point of loss.

Through song, dance, and monologues the dance-opera unfolds in an emotional experience for the cast and the audience. The story follows the journey of character Toloki, a professional moaner who aids others in experiencing their grief. Toloki not only tackles the personal grief of individuals, but also the grief of an entire culture oppressed by slavery. This task is no small feat. However, through periods of writhing discomfort come soft victorious reliefs, and Toloki guides the narrative with gentle command.

He is joined by a quartet of Isicathamiya singers (an a cappella style originating from the Zulu people) crafting seamless harmonies. Onstage, the group of dancers react to their every tone; the singers’ voices prompt the dancers to sustain a pirouette or release a battement. While sometimes they hold a command over one another, other times the distinctions between the actors and movers seem to disappear altogether.

Dancers create rhythms by clicking their tongues, stomping, chanting, and screaming. Singers weave smoothly through formations around the space. This integration between the two forms is what makes this show so successful. The production is not dance and opera- it is both, and both fused impeccably well.

Maqoma’s distinctive movement incorporates African and contemporary practices such that the choreography is always reinventing itself. Rich African tradition, woven with the newer western style, creates a juxtaposition which makes every movement exciting. From the small intricacies among the gestures of the hands to the grand leaps and rapid formation changes, the dancers' dedication is physically exhausting and emotionally thrilling.

As grief is a common theme explored among artists, such subject matter can often lead to shows feeling cliché and unoriginal. Yet, Maqoma’s choreographic style, infused with the unique sound score, resulted in a show that was an insightful reflection on personal tragedy and cultural loss.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Mia Silvestri

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