Gregory Maqoma’s Exit/Exist -final bow to South African stages  

When: October 5 to 7, 2023 at 7.30pm
Where: Pam Golding Theatre at The Baxter  
Bookings: Webtickets or at Pick n Pay stores See https://baxter.uct.ac.za/events/exitexist
Scroll down for production and creative credits

Where are the cattle? What of the land and those who were forced to exit? How do we exist meaningfully, in the wake of rupture, dispossession? How do we process memory, transcending loss and grief? In Exit/Exist, Gregory Maqoma fiercely embraces and reclaims his heritage and the threads that connect him to his distant relative, Chief Jongumsobomvu Maqoma. The chief was a legendary Xhosa leader. Born in 1798, he was arrested when he commanded English colonisers to liberate Xhosa land. He died on Robben Island in 1873. In Exit/Exist, Maqoma, traces and repossesses fragments of his ancestry as he circles present day realities. It is a rousing performance; a lament and celebration; of Maqoma and his prodigious artistry as a choreographer and dancer and is testament to his power as a storyteller.

Exit/Exist is a beautiful, tender piece of theatre, directed by James Ngcobo, with exquisite on-stage vocals by Tobela Mpela, Sizwe Nhlapo, Lubabalo Velebayi, Sipho Mhlanga. Simphiwe Dana’s music composition heightens and charges every move as Maqoma traverses the stage, embedding himself in an evocation of Chief Jongumsobomvu Maqoma. This season of Exit/Exist at the Baxter is in celebration of Maqoma’s 50th birthday (October 2023) and his departure from the stage, as a performer.  I attended the opening performance tonight, October 5. There is a performance tomorrow night, October 6 and then on October 7 (all at 7.30pm) and then that’s it.

This is a quickie review as the Baxter season is short. This show was on at National Arts Festival Makhanda 2023. One person remarked that it is a “life changing” experience to Exit/Exist. It is. The piece is knotted with images and symbols – so much to unpack- and no time as I need to get this review out. For me Exit/Exist is reminiscent of a prayer, supplication; a chant as Maqoma circles through the story. There is water, sand, filling one’s bowl (reverberating for me of Robben Island, labour and death camps). Out of the loss of land, of personhood, liberty, Maqoma is able to draw a perfect circle, with sand as he charts his territory, existing now in our troubled country. So much history has been bypassed and Exit/Existence is powerful retrieval – on a personal level for Gregory Maqoma -and for all of us- soaking up the knotted narratives.

Maqoma begins with his back to us, suited up. Discarding his suit, he stands before us, in the flesh and then transfigures into Chief Jongumsobomvu Maqoma- chief, warrior; fighter, a human being who lived – and died – by his beliefs, pride and selfhood. In the end of Exit/Exist, the suit is retrieved. Gregory Maqoma faces us – and what is still to come. Time does not allow me to reflect on the sheer repertoire of dance motifs incorporated in Exit/Exist and his virtuosity as a dance artist. It is breathtaking to watch his physical command of dance- the major and minor shifts in balance, pivot, hoist- and more. Wow.  It is a privilege to experience this offering by Gregory Maqoma and so beautifully tempered by James Ngcobo in the director’s seat. Both of them are storytellers and the performance reveals itself with urgency, moments of deep fissures but ultimately,  it is a call-out, in going beyond existing – even as we acknowledge the forced exits – and stories – of so many in this country. Please do not miss the mesmerising Exit/Exist.

Exit/Exist creative and production credits

Concept, choreography and performance:  Gregory Maqoma
Music composition: Simphiwe Dana
Director: James Ngcobo
Video animation: Mileta Postic
Guitar composition, arrangements and performance: Giuliano Modarelli
Vocal arrangements and additional composition: Complete Quartet
Rehearsal director: Shanell Winlock
Recorded text voice: Sibulele Gcilitshana
Sound design and recording: Andile Mpahlwa
Costumes: David Tlale
Set and lighting design: Oliver Hauser
Lighting technician: Wesley France
Sound engineer: Ntuthuko Mbuyazi
Musical direction: Happy Motha
Project manager: Siyandiswa Dokoda
Vocalists: Tobela Mpela, Sizwe Nhlapo, Lubabalo Velebayi, Sipho Mhlanga      

Featured image -Gregory Maqoma in Exit Exist. Pic by Arthur Dlamini