Carried by the singing of an African Isicathamiya choir, Cion stands for hope against the darkness, transfixing us with choreography of rhythmic dexterity and ecstatic intensity.
Gregory Maqoma embodies professional mourner Toloki – a character inspired by the protagonist of Zakes Mda’s novels Ways of Dying and Cion. As he confronts a universe in which greed, power and religion lead so often to the trivialization of death and loss, his lament unfolds to Ravel’s Bolero, interpreted here through the stirring device of percussion and voice.
Making his third Dance Umbrella appearance since 2015, Maqoma, one of South Africa’s most celebrated artists is joined by eight gifted performers from Vuyani Dance Theatre and four vocalists.
“Incredible show with dance pieces ranging from joyous to hauntingly beautiful”
Presented by Dance Umbrella in partnership with the Barbican. Co-produced by Vuyani Dance Theatre and The Market Theatre.
Creative team & performers +
- Gregory Maqoma
Concept, Choreographer, Dancer
- Shanell Winlock
- Nhlanhla Mahlangu
Musical Director and Composer
- Oliver Hauser
- Wesley Mabizela
- Mannie Manim
- Ntuthuko Mbuyazi
- Gregory Maqoma
- Ernest Balene, Nathan Botha, Katleho Lekhula, Lungile Mahlangu, Thabang Mojapelo, Smangaliso Ngwenya, Otto Andile Nhlapo, Itumeleng Tsoeu, Roseline Wilkens
- Simphiwe Bonongo, Zandile Hlatshwayo, Siphiwe Nkabinde, Sbusiso Shozi
“The outstanding, soul shaking performances touch you to the core“
“An extraordinary piece”
The Theatre Times
“Incredible show with dance pieces ranging from joyous to hauntingly beautiful“
Artsvark (South Africa)
“A South African tribal lament, deeply embedded within unfathomable traditions of mourning around death, yet powerful enough to transcend cultural barriers and speak to all“
British Theatre Guide
Venue and access information +
Silk Street, London
The Barbican Theatre is located within the main Barbican building. Head to Level G and follow the signs to find your seating level.
The Barbican is widely accessible by bus, tube, train and by foot or bicycle. Plan your journey and find more route information in ‘Your Visit’ or book your car parking space in advance.
Spaces for wheelchair users in the rear of the Stalls (four) and row B of the upper circle (four), both with companion seats. Row B is reached via a platform lift, and staff will be happy to help you. Seats in the back row of the Stalls are suitable for people with limited mobility.
Assistance dogs may be taken into the theatre – please tell us when booking, to ensure your seat has enough space. If you prefer, you may leave your dog with a member of the cloakroom staff during the performance.
For our occasional BSL-signed performances. Stalls seats close to the signer are reserved for people with hearing impairments. Please book early and ask for these seats.
These display the full text of the play on a screen as the actors speak the words. Seats with the best view of the screen are reserved for people with hearing impairments, so please book early and ask for these seats.
Audio-described performances and amplified sound
Headsets are available from the sales kiosk outside the Stalls Right entrance to the theatre.
Discover more +
The world has changed and we are constantly confronted by the scourge of violence against humans. I can’t help wondering how much the idea of a post-human era has infiltrated our very definition of humanity. Therefore this show’s message of death and its dire consequences must be communicated through a lament in order to tackle a universe where the age-old phenomena of greed, power and religion result in unnatural deaths. Toloki, the professional mourner, weaves through this virtual landscape of dissolution, bringing about catharsis. Paradoxically, this catharsis is a universal grief that conquers the sadness continuing to permeate the living who are plagued by deaths that are not their own.
The name of the piece, Cion, is as in Zion, the African church. It is set in a graveyard, a church where the body is religion and the voices are personal. For inspiration, it draws on creations by two artists: the character Toloki in South African author Zakes Mda’s novels Cion and Ways of Dying, and music from French composer Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. The story is a universal one, encompassing both the past and the present, and it champions our ability to bend together to share the burden of grief. It is accompanied by the persistent cries of people in mourning and the a cappella music of Isicathamiya in our own languages, sung by an a cappella quartet to the creative arrangement and composition of Nhlanhla Mahlangu. The piece is performed by myself and eight dancers who are possessed by the spirits; they are one with the departed souls and finally bring their spirits to rest in order for peace and humanity to prevail.
Zakes Mda, Author
Zakes Mda is a writer, painter and music composer, Professor Emeritus of English at Ohio University in the USA, and Extraordinary Professor of English at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. He has published 24 books, eleven of which are novels and the rest collections of plays, poetry and a monograph on theatre for development. His works have been translated into 22 languages and have won several awards in South Africa, the US and Italy. His memoir titled Sometimes There is a Void: Memoirs of an Outsider was the New York Times Notable Book for 2012. In 2008 Cion was one of the five novels shortlisted for the NAACP Image Awards which honour projects and individuals that promote diversity in the arts in television, recording, literature and motion pictures. He holds honorary doctoral degrees from five universities, including the University of Cape Town and Dartmouth College, and is an honorary patron of The Market Theatre in Johannesburg.
Gregory Vuyani Maqoma, Conceiver, Choreographer and Dancer
Gregory Vuyani Maqoma became interested in dance in the late 1980s as a means to escape the growing political tensions in his place of birth. He started his formal dance training in 1990 at Moving Into Dance where, in 2002, he became the Associate Artistic Director. Maqoma has established himself as an internationally renowned dancer, choreographer, teacher and director. He founded Vuyani Dance Theatre (VDT) in 1999 when he was undertaking a scholarship at the Performing Arts Research and Training School (PARTS) in Belgium under the direction of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.
Maqoma is respected for his collaborations with artists of his generation like Akram Khan, Vincent Mantsoe, Faustin Linyekula, Dada Masilo, Shanell Winlock, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Nhlanhla Mahlangu and theatre director James Ngcobo.
Several works in his repertoire have won him accolades and international acclaim. This includes FNB Vita Choreographer of the Year in 1999, 2001 and 2002 for Rhythm 1.2.3, Rhythm Blues and Southern Comfort respectively. He received the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Dance in 2002. Maqoma was a finalist in the Daimler Chrysler Choreography Award in 2002 and in the Rolex Mentorship Programme in 2003. He is the recipient of the 2012 Tunkie Award for Leadership in Dance. In 2014 he received a Bessie, New York City’s premier dance award, for Exit/Exist for original music composition. He served as a nominator in the 2016–2017 Rolex Arts Initiative as well as curating the 2017 Main Dance Program for The National Arts Festival. His works Via Kanana and Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero are currently touring in Africa and Europe.
In 2017 Maqoma was honoured by the French Government with the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Arts and Literature) Award. In 2018 he was honoured by the South African Department of Arts and Culture with the inaugural Usiba Award for dedication to dance teaching. In 2018 Maqoma was one of the selected visiting artists at the Virginia Commonwealth University Dance Department as well as a visiting teacher at Ecole De Sables – Toubab Dialaw – Senegal. Maqoma is part of the selection committee for Dance Biennale Afrique Festival, due to take place in Marrakech in 2020. In 2018 Maqoma collaborated with William Kentridge as a choreographer and performer in Kentridge’s opera The Head and the Load which premiered at The Tate Modern Gallery in London in July and toured to Germany, Austria, Holland and New York. In 2019 Maqoma collaborated with Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah on the production Tree, produced by Manchester International Festival and the Young Vic.
Nhlanhla Mahlangu , Composer and Music Director
Exceptional vocalist, composer, theatre-maker, gravity-defying dancer and educator Nhlanhla Mahlangu is a graduate of the theory and practice of dance teaching at Moving into Dance, Mophatong. Recently Mahlangu has turned his attention to translating his prolific local and international career on stage into a Master of Arts by Creative Research at the University of Witwatersrand. Mahlangu can be described as a generous interdisciplinary collaborator who excels at conjuring original, complex and contemporary work rooted in traditional forms.
Born in Pholapark Squatter Camp in Apartheid South Africa in the late 1970s, Mahlangu started school during the national state of emergency in the 1980s. Mahlangu witnessed first-hand the conflicts between the African National Congress, Inkatha Freedom Party and The ‘Third Force’ of the 1990s. His seminal body of work, Chant, is shaped and inspired by these experiences.
In addition to his contemporary dance and musical ingenuity, Mahlangu is celebrated for his embodiment of Isicathamiya, an a cappella-type musical form combining vocals and movement. Mahlangu uses this practice as a way to process the history of South Africa, particularly the plight of migrant workers. These performances look to build social cohesion, heal the wounds of the past and encourage resilience in the new democratic South Africa.
Nhlanhla Mahlangu’s prolific practice is one of interrogation, articulation, development and research. He has gained exceptional ground through his pivotal collaborations with luminaries the calibre of William Kentridge, Robyn Orlin, Richard Cock, Gregory Vuyani Maqoma, Sylvia Glasser, Vincent Mantsoe, Jay Pather, James Ngcobo, Victor Ntoni and Hugh Masekela, as well as his choral music and music-making approaches with his Hlabelela Ensemble and Song and Dance Works. Mahlangu was a Naledi award-winner for Best Choreographer in 2017.
Oliver Hauser, Set Designer and Technical Director
Oliver Hauser’s passion for lighting, and his creativity, integrity and energetic work ethic have become well known in the South African live events industry. Hauser has worked on over 250 productions since 2007 across a wide range of genres: drama, comedy, opera, musicals, avant-garde dance, contemporary music, conceptual performance and corporate events. He has designed, co-ordinated and managed lighting for productions at prestigious venues in Barcelona, Paris, Zurich, Berlin, Beijing and in other cities internationally.
Some of his career credits include Gregory Maqoma’s Cion (Set design and technical management), The South African Music Awards 2018, Avenue Q (South Africa), Rock of Ages (South Africa), Jonathan Roxmouth’s The Musicals in Concert (2017 and 2018), High School Musical (Associate designer), The Mystery of Irma Vep, Eve Ensler’s Emotional Creature, Molière’s Tartuffe, The Crucible, Reza De Vet’s African Gothic, African Footprint (Head of lighting), Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, Athol Fugard’s Boesman & Lena, The Coloured Museum, Percy Mtwa’s Bopha!, Beautiful Creatures, One More Night (A Phil Collins Tribute) and Marat Sade.
Ntuthuko Mbuyazi, Sound Designer
Ntuthuko Mbuyazi is a Durban-born sound addict. He achieved his diploma in Audio Engineering at Cape Audio College in 2010 and is currently The Market Theatre’s Sound Technician. By 2016 he was fully launched in sound design and his work was nominated at the 2017 Naledi Theatre Awards for Best Sound Design for 6 Characters in Search of an Author, directed by Sibusiso Mamba. He was further nominated in the 2018 Naledi Theatre Awards for Best Original Score/Arrangement/Music Adaptation for Itsoseng, directed by Lesedi Job. His latest achievement is a double nomination for the 2019 Naledi Theatre Awards for Best Sound Design for Florence, directed by Greg Homann and for Best Sound Design for Shoes and Coups, directed by Palesa Mazamisa. His sound design history includes Four Women (Nina Simone), directed by James Ngcobo, You Fool How Can The Sky Fall, directed by James Ngcobo, King Leopard, directed by Lesedi Job, Suddenly the Storm, directed by Bobby Heaney, When Swallows Cry, directed by Lesedi Job, The Suit, directed by James Ngcobo, The Suitcase, directed by James Ngcobo, Train Driver, directed by Charmaine Weir-Smith, 1 Night In Miami, directed by James Ngcobo, Meet me at Dawn, directed by Lesedi Job, Nongogo, directed by James Ngcobo and Cincinnati, directed by Clive Mathibe. Designing has seen him tour China, Romania, Cape Town, Durban and Bloemfontein.
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