Nkoli: The Vogue-Opera brings Simon Nkoli’s legacy to life


Nkoli: The Vogue-Opera dancer Lwanele Masiza (Photo: Mark Lewis)

Experience the extraordinary life and struggles of Simon Nkoli, South Africa’s iconic gay anti-apartheid freedom fighter, in the groundbreaking Nkoli: The Vogue-Opera.

Set for its world premiere run at The Market Theatre in Johannesburg from November 17 to 19, this production transcends traditional boundaries, blending opera and vogueing-ball elements into a unique and contemporary theatrical experience.

A Visionary Narrative and Production

Simon Nkoli, who was imprisoned for four years in the famous Delmas Treason trial (1985-1988), was a key figure in the queer liberation movement and an instrumental force in ensuring South Africa became the first country to explicitly protect sexual minorities.

The production boasts a cast of over 26 talented singers, dancers, voguers, and musicians. With a dynamic blend of rap, opera, protest songs, and archival audio clips, the show delivers a highly contemporary and engaging narrative.

Picture the 13th of October 1990, where Simon Nkoli leads the first Gay Pride March in Africa. The stage transforms into a classic fashion runway reminiscent of Black Queer Vogueing events, with performers competing in various categories through song and dance battles. Large video projections feature images of Nkoli, his prison letters, Sebokeng township, and anti-apartheid protest marches.

Hamilton Meets RuPaul’s Drag Race

Nkoli: The Vogue-Opera, is as fierce and fabulous as Simon was. “Think if Hamilton and RuPaul’s Drag Race had a baby in South Africa. That’s Nkoli: The Vogue-Opera!” says S’bo Gyre, co-lyricist.

It was crafted over four years by internationally renowned composer Philip Miller, whose recent successes include the soundtrack to the uShaka iLembe score; his collaboration on William Kentridge’s The Head and the Load, and the Reuben T Caluza B-Side concerts with composer Tshegofatso Moeng.

The cast of Nkoli: The Vogue-Opera performing Pride-ism (Photo: Mark Lewis)

The show is directed by the award-winning international UK director and screenwriter Rikki Beadle-Blair (known for Noah’s Arc and Stonewall). “I have always wanted to work at The Market Theatre. The home of protest theatre in South Africa,” says Beadle-Blair.

“Simon loved glamour, and so we can’t think of a better way to tell his story. To combine his story with vogue-ball culture which is a celebration of possibility, defiance, activism, dance, glamour and escapism.”

Choreography by Llwellyn Mnguni, costumes by Mr Allofit, and multimedia projections by Catherine Meyburgh contribute to the visual spectacle. With musical direction by Tshegofatso Moeng and production by Harriet Perlman, Nkoli: The Vogue-Opera is not just a show; it’s a celebration of activism, defiance, dance, glamour, and escapism.

The cast includes Siya Motloung in the title role, with Grant Towers as Roy, Simon’s lover, Mhlaba Buthelezi as Edwin Cameron, and Hlumelo Ledwaba as Bev Ditsie.

Join the Celebration in Jozi

Simon Nkoli’s remarkable story, often overlooked, takes centre stage in Nkoli: The Vogue-Opera. Whether you’re an opera enthusiast or a regular attendee of vogueing nights, balls, and drag clubs, this production promises a captivating experience.

Don’t miss the chance to celebrate its birth in Jozi from November 17 to 19 before it goes on to tour internationally. Tickets are available on Webtickets.

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