A solo dancer begins with his back to the audience as his fingers flicker in the air like he is plucking something out of his memory. He moves to the sounds of a guitar which mimic his frenetic body movements.
So begins "Exit/Exist," created and performed by Gregory Maqoma of Vuyani Dance Theatre. The piece weaves live music, text and history in an original and powerful work presented at the Emmett Robinson Theatre. The history recounted is that of the performer's actual ancestor, a chief of the Xhosa nation. The Xhosa's conflict with the British fueled an independence movement and a fight to preserve cultural identity.
Maqoma transforms himself into the ancient warrior with costumes, props and projected text on a scrim, along with the accompaniment of guitarist Giuliano Modarelli and four tremendous singers who help the story unfold. The singers, a group called Complete Quartet, are a true pleasure to hear, enhancing the spirit and passion of the story. This musicality is one of the strongest elements of the work. The singers at times interact with Maqoma while he reenacts certain images and actions that are vital to the story
Piles of grain are poured across the stage, representing the resources that were taken from a nation that depended on grain and cattle.
Maqoma's movements are a tapestry of African, modern and popular dance. He moves with bold fluidity at times unfamiliar and unexpected - and entirely original. His performance is full of dramatic passion, proving that art is most effective when it is most personal.
As the intensity of the story grows, and the warrior is broken by what has happened to him, the work shifts to an exploration of the fear, anger and pain of a man who left his mark and whose descendant feels compelled to tell his story
In the end, the audience has been transported to another time and place, and although the images are loosely assembled we have a clear understanding of what we've witnessed.
Eliza Ingle was a professor of dance at the College of Charleston for 20 years.
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