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South African Premiere of acclaimed William Kentridge work The Head & The Load comes to Joburg Theatre Article Image

South African Premiere of acclaimed William Kentridge work The Head & The Load comes to Joburg Theatre

Posted on 2 March 2023

William Kentridge's large-scale theatre work, The Head & The Load, will be seen for the first time on the African continent at the Joburg Theatre from 21 April - 6 May 2023 for 14 performances only.

After a resounding opening at the Tate Modern in London in 201 - followed by sold-out shows in New York, Amsterdam and Germany - bringing the production home to South Africa was delayed by two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and prolonged lockdowns. Needless to say, it has been a long wait and the production's arrival in Kentridge's hometown of Johannesburg is highly anticipated.

This internationally acclaimed exploration of Africa's role in the First World War illuminates the untold story of the millions of black African porters and carriers who served - and in many cases died for - British, French and German battlefield forces. A play on the Ghanaian proverb "The head and the load are the troubles of the neck," the historical significance of their crucial role in the conflict has remained largely unexamined for a century.

This exceptionally ambitious production runs across a purpose-built stage stretching over 50 metres along the back of the Nelson Mandela Theatre, with an intimate seating configuration for approximately 500 audience members. The wings and backstage of the reconfigured theatre become a site-specific performance space large enough to accommodate this monumental work, while the audience takes its place directly onstage for a once-in-a-lifetime theatrical experience.

The Head & The Load sees Kentridge reunited with long-time collaborator Philip Miller, one of South Africa's leading composers, as well as co-composer and music director Thuthuka Sibisi and choreographer and principal dancer Gregory Maqoma from Vuyani Dance Company. Together, they created what the artist describes as "an interrupted musical procession".

The powerful and evocative score is performed by an ensemble cast of extraordinary singers and musicians drawn from across the globe - South Africa, Guinea, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy - offering a perfect complement to Kentridge's imaginative work.

This rich and multi-layered production features an international cast of 38 performers, with a majority from South Africa. The cast - which includes actors Hamilton Dlamini, Nhlanhla Mahlangu, Dambuza Nqumashe and Luc De Wit, with vocalists Ann Masina and Joanna Dudley - vividly brings history to life through a combination of music, text, dance, film projections, mechanised sculptures and shadow play.

Speaking about the production, Kentridge said, "The Head & The Load is about Africa and Africans in the First World War, that is to say about all the contradictions and paradoxes of colonialism that were heated and compressed by circumstances of the war. It is about historical incomprehension (and inaudibility and invisibility). The colonial logic towards the black participants could be summed up, 'Lest their actions merit recognition, their deeds must not be recorded.' The Head & The Load aims to recognise and record."

Speaking in support of the production, Bonga Sebesho FNB Head of Brand Experience said: "We're very pleased that FNB and RMB are collaborating to tell this vital African story through The Head & the Load. FNB and RMB are committed to the development of the creative sector because it is an important pillar to our economic growth. Additionally, the support of choreographer Gregory Maqoma, founder of Vuyani Dance Theatre, by RMB, through the FirstRand Foundation, goes back over a decade. As a responsible corporate citizen, we remain committed to initiatives that add value and make a meaningful difference to society."

Joburg Theatre performances will be preceded by a range of audience development and education initiatives, including a series of workshops and public programmes at The Centre for The Less Good Idea. These initiatives, alongside sponsored tickets, are key to reaching diverse communities across Johannesburg. Making the performances accessible to as many people as possible from the communities where it is most meaningful, is one of the main objectives in bringing this work to Africa.


Prices: R600 / R400 / R250

Evening performances: Fri 21 (Opening Night), Sat 22, Wed 26, Fri 28, Sat 29, Tues 2, Wed 3, Thurs 4, Fri 5 & Sat 6 at 20:00 (Final Performance)

Matinee performances: Sun 23, Thu 27 & Sun 30 at 15:00

Where: Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein

Book: At Joburg Theatre Box Office, tel. 0861 670 670 or online at www.joburgtheatre.com or www.webtickets.co.za

Patrons who hold tickets for the previous dates should contact the Joburg Theatre Box Office.

For more information about The Head & The Load, visit www.theheadandtheload.com.

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