Broken Chord at Sadler’s Wells
Broken Chord is a performance of dance, music and theatre telling the story of The African Choir, who sailed from Cape Town in the late 19th century to embark on a two-year tour of the UK, America and Canada in order to raise money for a school in Kimberley, South Africa. The piece has been created by choreographer Gregory Maqoma with music by composer Thuthuka Sibisi. Maqoma obliquely narrates the journey with words and dance, along with the four principals of the chorus. Tshegofatso Khunwane, Simphiwe Sikhakhane, Lubabalo Velebhayi and Nokuthula Magubane are all excellent, doing justice to close, luminous harmonies. Magubane, the only woman of the group, has a majestic voice.
The story starts straightforwardly enough, with the choir setting out with their suitcases and marvelling at London, like a musical theatre number. But the welcome is not what they had hoped for: the UK choir Echo Ensemble provides a menacing backdrop, shrieking Zadoc the Priest at them and encircling them with taunts in a series of oblique and metaphorical scenes that shift the atmosphere from optimism to fear and intimidation.
The narrative is not always clear in what happens on-stage, but result is evocative and inventive, with the loose impressionistic style becoming like ritual in the second half. The choreographer mixes contemporary and Xhosa dance elements to mesmerising effect. Incense is lit and wafted throughout the stage; Maqoma and the principals are plunged into darkness with their hands lit red as they make hallucinatory shapes, the palms swirling into a blur. There is a memorable sequence where they dance while making bread, kneading dough and covering themselves in flour.
This is heartfelt work. There is a bit less dance content than might be expected (given it is staged at Sadler’s Wells) and the narrative is not wholly clear, but Broken Chord makes up for that with Maqoma’s charisma and the resplendent voices.
Photos: Thomas Müller
Broken Chord is at Sadler’s Wells on 17th until 18th March 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: