Vuyani Dance Theatre Presents Vuyani Dance Week 2012 - 'Dancing the Imagination' The Dance Factory, Newtown, Johannesburg. 'Southern Comfort' - choreographed by Gregory Maqoma. Performed by Maqoma and Shanell Winlock. With musicians Brendan Jury on Viola and Lewis Ferreira on saxophone. Photograph:John Hogg

The power-dressed man accepting the leadership award could have been a doctor or a business execu-tive, but instead Gregory Vuyani Maqoma became a visionary contemporary dance professional.

Prior to accepting the 2012 Tunkie Award at the Con Cowan Theatre at the University of Johannesburg on November 16 the dancer- choreographer joined his Vuyani Dance theatre dancers, trainees and four musicians (on viola, cello, kora and percu-ssion) in the studio in an improvisational exercise on his Beautiful Me.

This now internationally feted 2007 soloist travelled to the Instances Festival in Chalon, France, last week where Maqoma joined fellow South Africans Dada Masilo (whom he mentored in her early years), Nelisiwe Xaba, Desire Davids and PJ Sabbagha (colla-borating with Reunion Island’s Eric Languet).

As a teenager the artist, born on October 16, 1973 in Orlando East, Soweto, emulated his hero Michael Jackson with fellow Joy Dancer and Soweto homeboy Vincent Sekwati Mantsoe entertaining at township weddings and Joburg’s Club Image.

His subsequent dance career brims with awards and accom-plishments. Maqoma’s artistic interaction with theatre director James Ngcobo since 2008 extended his choreographic wings into theatre and musical theatre peaking with Hugh Masekela’s still touring Songs of Migration (2010).

Apart from his choreographic ingenuity and originality, which has produced a remarkable issue-based repertoire, it is as a teacher, intellectual, cultural activist and courageous artistic director (who has not left the country to any inter-national destination) which quali-fies Maqoma for a Tunkie Award.

The dancer and dance maker whose collaborators include fellow Moving Into Dance and P.A.R.T.S. graduate Shanell Winlock, Dada Masilo, Faustin Linyekula, Akram Kahn and Sidi Larbi Cherakoui, tenaciously continues his commit-ment to his city and his homeland.

The following are edited extracts from Gregory Maqoma’s acceptance speech:

“I am humbled as I receive this award for leadership in South African dance. I think of Jackie Semela, I think of Xolani Nettleton ‘Tunkie’ Dyusha. I think of Dr Ivan May.

“I also think of my father Peter Lizo Maqoma. May their souls rest in peace.

“To be bestowed with a Tunkie Award (symbolised by the Malian Chiwara) is an encouraging gesture.

“My career in dance spans over 20 years of dancing the imagination, dancing memory, legacy and his-tory. Just for tonight ignore the politics.

“That is not easy when you live in a country like ours! As I accept this award we are debating policies that are guiding the arts fraternity.

“We are questioning the strategies adopted by funding agencies with very little consult-ation with stakeholders whom they are supposed to represent and protect.

“As an arts practitioner, founder and director of Vuyani Dance Theatre (since 1999) being part of the changing political landscape is important and being part of influencing the desired change is imperative.

“While we welcome the efforts of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in its attempt to formalise the arts sector in finally recognising that artists are part and parcel of our growing economy, it is also a dangerous phenomenon as the thinking of an artist can never be formalised. Artists are free spirited beings, we act on oppor-tunity, and we often react to a certain circumstances in our endeavours to create social change.

“What is urgently needed as an intervention by DTI and hopefully by the Department of Arts and Culture is the formalisation of policies guiding the arts in discussion with sector practitioners on all levels. With so little debate from our politicians regarding the future of the arts and the welfare of artists and support for our creative work how does one know if our local representatives really support the arts?

“A more coherent dialogue about the future and the understanding of the arts sector is long overdue and I guess the opportunity is granting itself presently for me to talk about it but also for dance to take centre stage in re-negotiating its existence on the continent.

“And I use the word re-negotiate: for dance has always been part of our evolving cultures and traditions and dance has been the most prevalent in negotiating cultural differences and breaking cultural barriers, which is what our politicians are struggling with in fully achieving social cohesion.

“Creativity is the soul of what we all do, it does not only apply to business as a key to survival in the brave new world.

“Like the resilient Chiwara I intend to continue to create works that propel us into a deeper human consciousness, that capture the imagination and the cradle period of a productive artistic vision which crosses creative frontiers and further embraces our heritage.”

Gregory Maqoma’s Flesh (2006), is danced by the Moving Into Dance Company with Sylvia Glasser’s Tranceformations (1991) at The Dance Factory from Thursday to Saturday at 7.30pm. Tickets R80. Book at Computicket.

• See Maqoma’s Mayhem (2012) at The Mzansi Fela Festival, in Pretoria, from December 7-9.