Faustin Linyekula, In Search of Dinozord at The Place

Posted: June 21st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Faustin Linyekula, In Search of Dinozord at The Place

Faustin Linyekula, In Search of Dinozord, The Place, June 16


Jeannot Kumbonyeki in Faustin Linyekula’s In Search of Dinozord (photo: Steve Gunther)

Faustin Linyekula is a dancer and choreographer based in Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is safe to say his country has had a volatile existence over the last century at the hands of colonial exploiters and of its own successive political regimes since gaining independence in 1960. Profits from its vast natural resources have funded bitterly internecine wars that claimed the lives of an estimated 5.4 million people between 1996 and 2003 alone. The names of its presidents Lumumba, Mobutu and Kabila have filled newspaper headlines but at The Place in London recently, as part of LIFT’s 2018 program, Linyekula and a handful of colleagues have recalled both the rich complexity of their country and its tortured legacy through the powerful theatrical mediums of dance and storytelling. In Search of Dinozord, as its name suggests, sets out on a journey without knowing if it will find what it is looking for or even what or where it may be. Did the journey really take place? The question is irrelevant, for the journey enters the emotional intensity of memory in which the distinctions between reality and imagination are forever blurred.

The setting is visually sparse yet charged with significance. A wide strip of crimson material hangs vertically on the back wall from floor to ceiling next to a large plywood panel; a group of performers huddle around a battered red metal trunk on one side and on the other a man sits in front of a typewriter at a desk in preparation for writing. Linyekula, his face daubed in white, stands behind a low wooden frame waiting to nudge his laptop into action. What he unleashes is the sound of helicopter blades layered into a frantic, screaming cauldron of sound that is Nierica by the French experimental and conceptual composer Joachim Montessuis; Linyekula sings through it, his trembling hands becoming a motif that will later spread to the bodies of his dancers, a fretful image of disease, fear or pain. Nierica is the sonic earthquake of the past from which the present performance can begin: creativity out of chaos.

The political history of the Democratic Republic of Congo is never far from the surface of In Search of Dinozord but Linyekula focuses instead, as with his current infrastructure projects in Kisangani, on building a new cultural landscape in which the future can thrive. This was also one of the dreams of his friend Richard Kabako who died of the plague on his way into exile. Kabako was a poet and playwright whose writings are kept in that red metal trunk and some of whose stories are related by Linyekula and singer Hlengiwe Lushaba during the performance. The man behind the typewriter is the theatre director Antoine Vumilia Muhindo some of whose aphorisms are projected on to the plywood screen. Muhindo was sentenced to life imprisonment in the infamous Makala prison in Kinshasa but managed to escape after nine years. And there’s a video appearance on a makeshift screen of another of Linyekula’s friends, the exiled actor and storyteller Maurice Mbwiti. It’s as if the stage has become the ground on which a new history of the Congo and its diaspora is being devised.

Linyekula has stated that ‘My only true country is my body’ and it is in the body that the search for Dinozord takes place. Linyekula convincingly appropriates a predominantly western play list — from Mozart to Arvo Pärt, from Jimi Hendrix to Montessuis — into the bodies of his performers. Pärt’s short organ works are seamlessly worked into the soundscape his three dancers (Jeannot Kumbonyeki, Papy Ebotani and Yves Mwamba) starkly inhabit while Lushaba’s extraordinary vocal range delivers a cappella sections of Mozart’s Requiem that are shorn of all western ecclesiastical references. But it is Kumbonyeki’s response to Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile where the body is transfigured, raising his krumping to the explosive levels of Hendrix’s mastery of the guitar. If Linyekula has honoured the dead with a discursive Requiem, in this final act he conjures up the passion of the Resurrection.

In Search of Dinozord is an open-ended performance in the sense that nothing seems finished but what is presented is complete. It takes you out of a familiar, tightly constructed theatrical framework where you know when to laugh, when to applaud and where individuality can so easily become the focus of a performance. This is a broad landscape in which a small group of charismatic performers carry the forgotten dreams of an entire country.

Fabrizio Cassol and Alain Platel, Requiem pour L. at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: March 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Fabrizio Cassol and Alain Platel, Requiem pour L. at Sadler’s Wells

Fabrizio Cassol and Alain Platel, Requiem pour L., Sadler’s Wells, March 20

Requiem pour L.

Boule Mpanya with Niels Van Heertum on euphonium in Requiem pour L. (photo: Chris Van Der Burght)

It is immediately apparent in Alain Platel’s and Fabrizio Cassol’s Requiem pour L. that ‘L’ refers to Elle whom we see on a cinematic screen at the back of the stage. Filmed in close-up by Natan Rosseel she is dying peacefully at home, lying on a cushion surrounded by the partially cropped hands and faces of loved ones, her face tired, her eyes opening and closing slowly, her mouth going through the motions of swallowing, her expression one of neither content nor distress. The film is shot in black and white and slowed down considerably, so that heads pass in front of the lens with impossible slowness temporarily obscuring the woman’s face. Hands stroke her fair, softly frizzled hair and mouths whisper in her ear; a man’s face appears, possibly the woman’s son, for her smile and her gaze rest on him with a devotional intensity. Her entire being engages with him in some final, inaudible words before she closes her eyes again and lapses into a peaceful repose. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, her mouth falls open as death creeps up and life leaves her. The images convey not only the reality of this woman’s final moments but the fragility of life as it simply and effortlessly drains away. The video, edited by Simon Van Rompay, lasts for the duration of Requiem pour L. and is in itself a silent, reflective requiem in moving images.

Cassol’s reinterpretation of Wolfang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem, based on the traditional funeral mass, serves as both an accompaniment to Elle’s final journey and as a requiem for her death. Cassol had researched Mozart’s score in original manuscripts, both transcribing and reworking it for a band of predominantly African musicians and vocalists with whom he and Platel had already worked. His score reimagines the Requiem through two contrasting cultural traditions, European and African — or, as dramaturg Hildegard De Vuyst writes, as ‘a different kind of ceremony for mourning that is neither Western nor African’ — while Platel’s direction reinforces this duality by bringing them together.

The performance references a traditional ritual of leaving a stone on the tomb of a loved one as a personal memorial, a quiet act by each of the musicians that reflects the poignancy of the screened images. As João Barradas begins the Introitus on his accordion, the notes lend an eerie dimension to the ghost-like figures attending the dying woman on the screen. A change of rhythm interrupts the reverie as the other members of the band and vocalists enter; Cassol’s concept weaves non-Western cultural references to mourning in an array of vocal gestures and instrumental sounds (conducted by bass player Rodriguez Vangama) that generate contrasting registers and harmonies. In place of Mozart’s four soloists there are now three, a tenor (Owen Metsileng), soprano (Nobulumko Mngxekeza), and countertenor (Rodrigo Ferreira) who combine with three black voices from the oral tradition (Fredy Massamba, Boule Mpanya and Russell Tshiebua) to bring to the structure of the Catholic mass socially shared rituals and expressions of pain as well as celebration that prove compelling. On stage, however, Van Rompay’s slow motion, ethereal, images are seen in stark contrast to the monolithic maze of black podiums on which the movement of the musicians and performers is grounded, while overhead lighting places shadows on the lower parts of faces so that often a voice is heard but the mouth from which it issues cannot be seen. It is left to the non-place of Cassol’s reimagined Requiem to seek to bridge the divide — both aurally and spiritually — between the visual and performative planes of the work, though it is not entirely successful.

Cultures relate to death and ritualize mourning differently; in Western industrialized societies such practices have been increasingly sanitized and privatized. Death happens quietly behind closed doors and how we die is seldom discussed openly and even less seen publicly. At the risk of provocation, Platel and Cassol overturn this tradition and interrogate a western religious musical form with an alternative mourning tradition. Each in itself is a separate project that questions the order through which we understand a cultural offering, and in this respect Cassol’s score in itself sets up a meaningful perspective. However, the juxtaposition of his choreographed Requiem and the intensely private video is not enough to suggest a new cross-cultural framework for commemorating the dead. For that an entirely new grid — to borrow a term from Michel Foucault — would be needed to merge the two in a unified whole. This has not happened, leaving the two projects stranded in close proximity.