“The thousands of kilometres which separate them, [Gregory [Maqoma] lives and works in Johannesburg while Shanell, a member of Akram Khan's company [since 2005], now lives in London], full touring schedules and a wedding to planning (Shanell and Akram), did not prevent the two dancers from meeting to work on a new duet, in France at the CND and then in Johannesburg. It was also at the CND, in February 2002, that they had danced their “Southern Comfort” together for the last time.
Since their first meeting at the Moving into Dance company in the 1990s, the links they have forged remain as each is willing to make the effort to continue working together. Maqoma also acknowledges the difficulty of finding a performer who understands his way of working as Shanell does. “Being on stage with her is always a gamble, she knows how to play with the elements of surprise and unpredictable change”, smiles Gregory, “we have a tacit agreement”. An unexpected consequence of this beautiful choreographic alchemy: Shanell was introduced to Akram Khan in October 2001 in London, at a performance of “Southern Comfort”… and that turned out pretty well! That Shanell Winlock became a muse for Maqoma and then for Khan is not surprising when you see her, both so spontaneous and so concentrated, using an incredible rhythmic dexterity, creating an intense, almost electric presence… Her own creativity remains at the service of the respective repertoire of the two choreographers.
For this new work, Gregory Maqoma decided to move away from the text which he had used for “Rhythm 1.2.3” in 1999 or for “Rhythm Blues” in 2000 to use movement on its own, offering the joint inspiration of the two dancers a new perspective, a new starting point. If the duel between modernity and tradition remains in their bodies, they wanted to stick with their recently gained and abundant maturity, and with the energy which man receives from nature and the harmony between movement and music. “With 'Beautiful', we wanted to create a piece that people will leave saying: 'that was beautiful to watch'.”
“Beautiful”, premièred in Johannesburg on 23 June 2005 was extended considerably to become a group piece for his company Vuyani Dance Theatre, which was founded in September during the Festival Arts Alive. A third piece consists of an unusual solo project: Maqoma asked three of his distinguished colleagues, Vincent Mantsoe, Akram Khan and Faustin Linyekula (who are also close friends), to create a two minute phrase for him. The first experiments on this work were carried out by Mantsoe and Linyekula in residence at Bates Festival in the United States in the summer (while Akram and Shanell celebrated their wedding in South Africa), after which it would continue to develop over a year. Defying time and the distance between continents to make a work of art together. “How beautiful is that?”
Adrienne Sichel, journalist and critic for the newspaper “The Star”, Johannesburg, May 2005
Further information https://vuyani.co.za
Updating: September 2013