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Originally published Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 12:01 AM

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A dance 'explosion' from South Africa with 'Beautiful Me'

Lauded South African dancer-choreographer Gregory Maqoma brings his culturally eclectic solo piece "Beautiful Me" to Seattle's ACT Theatre, during Maqoma's debut U.S. tour.

Seattle Times theater critic

DANCE PREVIEW

'Beautiful Me'

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle; $15-$35 (206-292-7676 or www.stgpresents.org).

Since apartheid ended in the early 1990s, South Africa's modern-dance scene has exploded — in a good way. And flashes from that explosion have reached Seattle, as prominent South African choreographers such as Boyzie Cekwana and Faustin Linyekula have journeyed here to perform.

Now comes the leading dancer-choreographer Gregory Maqoma, whose first U.S. tour brings him to ACT Theatre this weekend.

In his native Soweto, Maqoma began dancing at a youth club, and later formed his popular dance troupe, Vuyani Dance Theatre.

But in "Beautiful Me," presented here by Seattle Theatre Group, he goes solo in a piece American critics are lauding. Wrote Allan Ulrich, of the San Francisco Chronicle, "Once you have seen Maqoma ... his torso twisting, his feet stamping out an obsessive rhythm, he is not easy to forget."

Patrons of Maqoma's Seattle run would be wise to set aside expectations of a mainly traditional, folkloric approach to movement. Native dance and music are elements in Maqoma's work, as are exuberant Afro-pop and township jazz.

But he also incorporates European influences, gleaned from studying with postmodern Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and watching Michael Jackson "moonwalk." And the music he employs is strikingly eclectic: In "Beautiful Me," live musicians perform on cello, violin, sitar and percussion, and with singing, chanting and "clicking" in the Zulu language of Xhosa.

Like many of his peers, Maqoma (who is in his mid-30s) melds text into his work. And is it any wonder that "Beautiful Me" (the last part of a trilogy) explores a search for personal and artistic identity in a global culture?

It opens with these spoken words, both ironic and sincere: "I am Gregory Maqoma, an African dancer. I have plenty of exotic stories to tell. Which one would you like to hear tonight?"

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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