Four vocal soloists, the Vancouver Chamber Choir and South African choreographer and performer Gregory Maqoma share the stage in Broken Chord, a musical and movement-filled exploration of the life and legacy of The African Native Choir. A South African ensemble that toured the globe in the late 1800s, its history is brought to life through contemporary dance intertwined with song, sound, and storytelling.
“Last winter, we introduced our audiences to the visionary work of Maqoma in our Digidance presentation of Via Kanana, a work that deftly balanced hope and condemnation as it looked back on the end of apartheid in South Africa,” says Jim Smith, artistic and executive director of DanceHouse. “With Broken Chord, he sinks these roots deeper, reaching all the way back to the 1890s, to unearth a forgotten chapter of South African history that sheds light on our contemporary world.”
Active from 1891 through 1893, The African Native Choir travelled by boat to Britain, Canada, and America, performing at such iconic venues as London’s Crystal Palace and for dignitaries, including Queen Victoria. The 16-member ensemble was on a mission to raise funds for a technical school in Kimberley, South Africa. Performing in traditional African dress, their repertoire combined English hymns and operatic choruses with traditional African songs.
Maqoma became aware of the choir at a photography exhibition in Johannesburg. Inspired by the images and South African composer Thuthuka Sibisi’s accompanying music, he spontaneously launched into 40 minutes of improvised dance in the gallery’s centre.
Broken Chord is the result of this encounter, combining narrative, music, and movement to chart the remarkable voyage and success of the tour and expose the underlying tensions between South Africa and the colonial power of Great Britain. In addition, the work provides important critique and commentary on contemporary issues of borders, migration, and the lasting relationship between colonized and colonizer.
DanceHouse and Vancouver New Music present the Canadian premiere of Broken Chord on February 23 to 25 at the Vancouver Playhouse (600 Hamilton St, Vancouver). Visit dancehouse.ca for tickets and information.