A crowd of dancers from Vuyani Dance Theatre hold each other up under a spotlight

South African Dance Company Brings Groundbreaking Work to Bass Concert Hall

  • Apr 17, 2023

Gregory Maqoma has been thinking about death. After reading “Ways of Dying” and “Cion” by South African novelist and playwright Zakes Mda, the internationally acclaimed dancer and choreographer channeled the resulting thoughts and emotions into creating his own celebrated work, “Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero.”  

The Soweto-born Maqoma founded South Africa’s Vuyani Dance Theatre in 1999 and serves as its executive and artistic director. Both the dance company and the critically acclaimed dancework, created in 2017, will make their Texas debut in April, with Texas Performing Arts presenting the performance April 19 at Bass Concert Hall. 

“I saw a production of ‘Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero’ before the pandemic and have wanted to bring it to Austin ever since,” said Texas Performing Arts executive and artistic director Bob Bursey in an article for Arts and Culture Texas. “It is a spectacular and unforgettable work of art that incorporates dance, theater, opera, and vocal elements to transport the viewer to another world.” 

Instead of a full orchestra for the piece, four vocalists make use of isicathamiya, an a cappella singing style that originated in migrant South African Zulu communities, and the dancers provide percussion and vocal additions. In the interest of celebrating these choral elements, Texas Performing Arts is presenting the project together with Austin Opera as part of their Opera ATX series.  

French composer Maurice Ravel’s 1928 work “Bolero” was not originally created as a requiem — its title references the Spanish dance musical form of the same name — but when Maqoma heard the repetitive melody and insistent swells, he envisioned a funeral procession.  

“When I created the work, so many innocent people were dying in my country … ‘Cion’ was born out of that: a lament, a requiem to remember those who continue to die,” said Maqoma. “My hope is that everyone can find some form of healing by experiencing their own grief while watching it.” 

Read more at Arts and Culture Texas and find tickets at Texas Performing Arts.