SA premiere of acclaimed new Kentridge work

Joburg Theatre
03/04/2020 18:28:50

Supported by RMB and FNB, William Kentridge’s The Head & the Load is coming to South Africa, with music composed and conceived by Philip Miller.

In partnership with the City of Johannesburg, Kentridge’s large-scale theatre work will be seen for the first time in Africa at Joburg Theatre from 1 – 9 May for ten performances. After a resounding opening at the Tate Modern in London in 2018 followed by sold-out shows in New York, Amsterdam and Germany, this internationally acclaimed exploration of Africa’s role in the First World War illuminates the untold story of the millions of black African porters 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 50 metres along the back of the Nelson Mandela Theatre with an intimate seating configuration for just under 500 audience members. Featuring 38 performers, including actors Hamilton Dlamini, Nhlanhla Mahlangu, Mncedisi Shabangu, and Luc De Wit with vocalists Ann Masina and Joanna Dudley, The Head & the Load vividly brings history to life through a combination of music, text, dance, film projections, mechanized sculptures and shadow play.

It has been described by the international press as ‘A fiercely beautiful historical pageant’ (New York Times - Critics pick), ‘a masterpiece’ (ššššš London Evening Standard) and ‘electrifying’ (ššššš The Independent).

The Head & the Load sees Kentridge reunited with long-time collaborator Philip Miller, one of South Africa’s leading composers, together with co-composer and music director Thuthuka Sibisi, and choreographer and principal dancer Gregory Maqoma from Vuyani Dance Company, to create what the artist describes as “an interrupted musical procession”. This rich and multi-layered performance features an international cast of singers, dancers and performers, with a majority from South Africa.

Miller’s 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.

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 recognize and record.”

Speaking in support of the production Bongiwe Njobe, Head of Social Investing for FirstRand, said; “We’re very pleased that our franchises RMB and FNB are collaborating to tell this important African story through The Head & the Load. Further, RMB Foundation’s support of the choreographer Gregory Maqoma, founder of Vuyani Dance Theatre, goes back at least 12 years. This production is a natural fit with the FirstRand Foundation’s track record of supporting education and leveraging the creative arts as a tool for social transformation.”

Joburg Theatre performances will be preceded by a range of audience development and education initiatives, including workshops at The Centre for The Less Good Idea and various community hubs around Gauteng to help frame and draw people into the conversation. These initiatives are in partnership with the City of Johannesburg and, alongside sponsored tickets, are key to reaching diverse communities. 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.

Social Media #theheadandtheload #williamkentridge @JoburgTheatre

Prices: R600 / R400 / R250
Evening performances: Fri 1 (Opening Night), Sat 2, Sun 3, Tues 5 (Sold Out), Weds 6, Thurs 7, Fri 8, Sat 9 at 20:00 (Final Performance)
Matinee performances: Sun 3 & Sat 9 at 15:00
Where: Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein (GPS -26.191316, 28.038519)
Book: At Joburg Theatre Box Office, tel. 0861 670 670 or online at or
Patrons can also book via the Nedbank app or selected Pick n Pay stores (full list

Supported by:

Rand Merchant Bank and First National Bank, the City of Johannesburg, Bank of America Securities, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, The Ford Foundation and The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative

The Head & the Load was originally co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Commissions, Park Avenue Armory, Ruhrtriennale, Yale Schwarzman Center and MASS MoCAwith additional support from the Holland Festival.

The Head & the Load acknowledges the kind assistance of Goodman Gallery, Lia Rumma Gallery and Marian Goodman Gallery.

Publicity contact: Fiona Walsh on 084 405 1112 / / @FionaJoburg

Azwihangwisi Nephawe
011 877 6891
Joburg Theatre
Related Venue:
Joburg Theatre Complex, Loveday Street Braamfontein Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa