TORONTO, Ontario (March 7, 2023) – Over 130 years ago, from 1891 to 1893, a group of young African singers travelled, by boat, to perform in Britain, Canada, and America.
The ensemble, named The African Native Choir, was a group of 14 young men and women, and two children, from South Africa, then under British rule. Their repertoire consisted of Western classical music, as well as South African Indigenous music.
Inspired by only a handful of photographs from that 19th century South African choir tour, Broken Chord tells the story of this extraordinary expedition, through music and dance.
Last month, the Vancouver Sun described the production thus: “Broken Chord is hard to classify and not easy to describe: it remains a collaborative masterwork of extraordinary power!”
Using traditional Xhosa and contemporary dance styles, alongside atmospheric soundscapes to thread together personal stories of South Africa’s first Black choir, internationally-acclaimed dancer, choreographer and performer, Gregory Maqoma, joins forces with composer and musical director, Thuthuka Sibisi, to tell the story of The African Native Choir that toured the world in the 1890s, revealing a drama of global dimensions.
Broken Chord not only reflects on an archive, but triggers, critiques, and comments on urgent issues of migration, dispossession, borders, and paths of forced closure, raising important questions about the relationship between the colonized and the colonizer, and either’s complicity in shaping and shifting a South African narrative — past and present.
Born in Soweto in 1973, Gregory Maqoma became interested in dance in the late 1980s to escape the political tensions growing in his place of birth. He started his formal dance training in 1990 at Moving Into Dance, where he became the associate artistic director in 2002.
Maqoma has established himself as an internationally-renowned dancer, choreographer, teacher, director, and scriptwriter. 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.
He is respected for his collaborations with artists of his generation, and, since 2000, has collaborated with choreographers, including Akram Khan, Vincent Mantsoe, Faustin Linyekula, Dada Masilo, Shanell Winlock, and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.
Several works in his VDT repertoire have won him accolades and international acclaim, including: 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, and was a finalist in the Daimler Chrysler Choreography Award in 2002 and the Rolex Mentorship Program in 2003. He is the recipient of the 2012 Tunkie Award for leadership in dance, which is presented annually to a South African, who has elevated the standard and visibility of dance in South Africa.
In 2017 the French government awarded Maqoma the honorific Chevalier de L’ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Thuthuka Sibisi’s musical education began at the world-renowned Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School, where his passion for performance was born. He subsequently went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Music at Stellenbosch University in 2011,and is a graduate of the MA (performance making) program at Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom.
He has toured extensively, performing throughout South Africa as well as Asia and South America. Further tours include: Stockholm, as musical director of Philip Miller’s opera, Between A Rock and A Hard Place, in collaboration with Cape Town Opera. Further, Sibisi was associate conductor and chorus master for Bongani Ndonana-Breen’s oratorio Credo, which was written to commemorate UNISA’s 140th anniversary of its founding. Other engagements include: chorus master for UCT Opera School: Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites. Visual collaborations include work with Johannesburg-based photographer and sculptor, Jake Singer, on Joburg City Hustle and Intersections To This City, presented at Sustainable Empires in Venice, Italy, and Los Angeles Centre for Digital Art.
In China, he served as musical director to Philip Miller’s Pulling Numbers (premier) and Ciné-Concert, presented as part of Notes Toward a Model Opera by William Kentridge. 2016 also saw Sibisi make his Italian debut as music director for William Kentridge’s Triumphs and Laments to be presented in Rome, Italy.
Further projects include a commission by Cape Town Opera for Musiquées Sacrée d’Afrique et d’Europe, in residence at Festival International d’Aix-en-Provence. He was also the musical director and co-composer, alongside Philip Miller, for William Kentridge’s The Head and The Load, which premiered in 2018 at London’s The Tate Modern.
He is a recipient of the Mail and Guardian 200 Young South Africans 2017 Award and the 2018 Ampersand Foundation fellow.
Maqoma and a quartet of vocalists from South Africa are joined on stage by That Choir, one of Toronto’s most exciting a cappella ensembles, together interweaving the worlds of music and dance to explore identity, memory, and the stories of the colonized and the colonizers.
Currently in its 15th season, That Choir is one of Toronto’s most exciting professional a cappella ensembles, combining high-calibre performance with storytelling through choral music. Founded in 2008 by Artistic Director, Craig Pike, That Choir now draws together close to 20 singers with diverse backgrounds in culture, work, and study. Each season, That Choir presents a three-concert series of contemporary choral works and undertakes a range of professional development projects.
It has toured nationally appearing at Canada’s national choral music festival, Podium; as featured guest artists at MusicFest Canada in Ottawa; and on a provincial tour of both Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador. They have received the Elmer Iseler Best Choir Award and placed first in both the OMFA Provincial Music Festival and FCMF National Music Festival. Their self-titled album was released in August 2022 featuring the music of Eric Whitacre, Ēriks Ešenvalds and Kathleen Allan.
That Choir also maintains a strong connection with the theatre community in Toronto, having performed with Sir Christopher Plummer, Louise Pitre, Deborah Hay, and Jim Mezon. They have also performed as the feature choir in the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience, Hans Zimmer Live on Tour, and The Legend of Zelda Symphony.
TO Live, one of Canada’s largest multi-arts organizations, presents Broken Chord at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts’ Bluma Appel Theatre for three performances only — March 9 to 11, 2023. Tickets are now on sale and available at www.tolive.com, by phone at 416-366-7723 & 1-800-708-6754, or by email at email@example.com.
There will be a 30-minute post-show artist talk, immediately following the show on Friday, March 10. And, on Saturday, March 11 at 8pm, the performance will be audio-described, by Rebecca Singh of Superior Description Services.