Faustin Linyekula at The Kitchen – October 12
Last Wednesday took us to The Kitchen for Faustin Linyekula’s powerful new work more more more…future. The piece explores the sociopolitical landscape of Linyekula’s native Democratic Republic of Congo by juxtaposing visceral, muscular choreography with revolutionary poems by Antoine Vumilia Muhindo and an aggressive, layered score by Flamme Kapaya – a major star in his home country – which is played live by his band.
The piece takes as its starting place the native pop/party music of Congo, known as Ndomobolo. It is high-energy, melodic and celebratory, known for inspiring dancers to states of intoxication and transport. Linyekula establishes early on, by projecting Muhindo’s apocalyptic poetry onto the back wall, that this music is the soundtrack of a people dancing on the edge of destruction.
The music is really what propels this piece and creates the context for everything else that unfolds. Kapaya is an amazingly talented guitarist and composer, he and his band do an incredible job of transitioning between diverse musical styles and creating sonic environments for the dancer/actors. Starting with the light, nimble fretwork of Ndomobolo, they gradually move into a single, heavy metal repeated power chord that turns into an aggressive assault bordering on punk rock. This transitions into a propulsive jazz/funk kind of bass and drums rhythm with trippy guitar soloing on top – and then back again into the heavy metal/punk sound. The singers, too, move from style to style seamlessly – and it is exciting to hear them move from soulful singing to full-on growling spoken word. We feel intuitively how these seemingly disparate forms tap into similar impulses. You can groove to the sounds and rhythms of the whole show but you also feel the intensity and power driving you forward.
The dancers feel it too. They enter shirtless in basic black but soon put on these strangely-shaped puffy shirts, one fabricated from shopping bags, one from what looks like Euros, and the other one I couldn’t quite make out. They start with simple, smallish moves but gradually expand out into sinuous, athletic and aggressive movement patterns. They seem to be blending little bits of “traditional” dance with popular dance and contemporary movement, embodying the tension between worlds that is The Congo. They look like they are dancing at the apocalypse, summoning up the spirits of the End Times and struggling against forces much stronger than them and beyond their control.
The poems projected on the back wall are broken into sections – many of them titled after Nietzche, “Twilight of the Idols”, “Thus Sang Zarathustra” – which lends a certain structure and point of reference. Sometimes, to me, it seemed a little heavy handed, but overall it spoke to the ideological and political ambition of the work – they’re shooting to engage with big ideas and create an epic experience, tying the plight of Congo into the wider tide of history.
Towards the end of the piece the words projected onto the wall read, “You Deserve A Future” – and this is the point of the piece. Congo doesn’t need media-generated pity, it doesn’t need false promises and it shouldn’t ignore its situation by just dancing. The people of Congo need a future, a vision to live towards, they deserve it. It is interesting, then, that at this point the ensemble make their way upstage to a corner in a dim pool of light where they perform an extended sequence of what I believe was traditional a capella Congolese folk song, complete with guttural interjections and syncopated handclaps. At the same time they are calling out for a future they are referencing the past, something original, something unique, something culturally specific and tied to their heritage. It is a beautiful moment.
After that section they return to the main part of the stage for, almost, a reprise of the Zarathustra section which leads into a film projected on the back wall of clouds floating by on a bright blue sky. Faces emerge from the clouds and we eventually see a group portrait of the artists themselves, which fades back into the blue, leaving us looking at the sky and dreaming. Thus ends this intense dance/music journey.
I didn’t know what to expect going into the show, having never seen Linyekula’s work before. I was surprised and delighted to be so moved and engaged. Really amazing work from a too-little known part of the world.