‘Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Boléro’ back in Joburg

Novelist Zakes Mda and composer Maurice Ravel meet in a dance piece that examines loss, grief and issues of mourning.

An intrigue of dance and music that spins on the weight of mourning, Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Boléro, was conceived and choreographed by Gregory Maqoma who combined movement with his two inspired source materials: Zakes Mda’s novels Cion and Ways of Dying and Boléro, a piece of music by French composer Maurice Ravel. 

Mda’s character Toloki, a professional mourner, weaves his way through the story and in tandem with the music magnificently arranged by Nhlanhla Mahlangu. He uses the a cappella music of Isicathamiya sung by the Soweto Gospel Choir. Simphiwe Bonongo, a beatboxer, highlights this sound as one of the ways to tell Toloki’s story. As the dancers and singers build tension and maintain the performance’s rising energy throughout, eliciting verbal responses from the enthralled audience, Bonongo accompanies them with his voice.

30 January 2022: Otto Andile Nhlapo (top) is Toloki, the professional mourner who weaves through this virtual landscape of dissolution, giving rise to a catharsis of universal grief that will conquer the sadness.

“It’s a universal story encompassing the past and the present that champions our ability to band together to share the burden of grief. [It is] set in a graveyard with the persistent cries of people in mourning,” says Maqoma. His company, Vuyani Dance Theatre, makes this work pulsate with life. “[It] was created [in 1999] as a space for us to come together to play, to find something more significant about ourselves, about our country and significantly to say who we are in the context of an urban setting.”

Since its first outing in 2017, and despite the restrictions brought on by the pandemic more recently, Cion is revisiting The Mandela Stage at The Joburg Theatre with an expanded cast. The production has toured Europe and the United States, hitting the boards at illustrious venues such as The Joyce Theatre in New York and The Barbican in London. For now, though, it is back home.

Cion is at The Mandela Stage of The Joburg Theatre until 6 February 2022.

30 January 2022: The music in Cion is delivered stirringly by an isicathamiya group and the percussive voices of dancers, under the musical direction of Xolisile Bongwana and Nhlanhla Mahlangu.
30 January 2022: Otto Andile Nhlapo as Toloki.
30 January 2022: The theatre work was inspired by creations by two artists: the character Toloki in South African author Zakes Mda’s novel Cion, and music from French composer Maurice Ravel’s Boléro.
30 January 2022: Soloist Semangele Mongatane.
30 January 2022: Cion is a universal story encompassing the past and the present. It lauds our ability to band together to share the burden of grief.
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