Congo Trip Notes: Kinshasa Performances

Posted in Uncategorized | December 7, 2009 | by cathyz | (1) Comment

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I traveled from Kisangani to Kinshasa with Faustin and his family. It’s the 10th Anniversary of the French Cultural Center (CCF) and Faustin has been invited to teach workshops and perform as part of the 4-day program of festivities. Over a period of three days, he will work with five men and one woman who will be incorporated into his performance.

night-performance-kinshasa

They rehearse and perform in a covered outdoor space. The floor is cement, blanketed with construction dust and dirt from the outdoors. There are framed windows without glass and scattered debris all around the space. During rehearsals there is the noise of hammering and mowing and construction workers constantly walk through the space.

Faustin does not teach technique – he wants to impart a method of thinking about performance that the dancers can develop and use in other work. His focus is to imprint the notion of context, spatial awareness and purpose/intention of movement. He’s rigorous in his work with them and very tough but the artists know and respect him and are hungry to learn.

Faustin put together an hour- long performance consisting of excerpts of his work going back 10 years in honor of the CCF’s long support. He introduced the evening by quoting Pina Bausch who once said that dance didn’t really interest her. What interested her was why people dance. Faustin explained that with this performance, he was attempting to distill the why of his dance-making over the past 10 years.

Faustin transformed and revealed the space through the simple use of light from a projector which he manipulated to frame the action. The clearly articulated spatial relationships created between performers and between the performers and the space they occupied, provided context for the viewer and supported the emotional terrain of the piece. The movement vocabulary, created through a series of theme-based improvisations, was unique according to the capabilities of each performer– the woman was especially engaging in that her movement and presence was so different from the male dancers. They were all wonderful—comfortable in their skins and deeply committed to the extremely difficult work they were doing—and it was hard to imagine that all this had been accomplished in only three days. They rolled, dropped from window heights to the floor, cart-wheeled and repeatedly jumped on the hard and dirty cement floor. There wasn’t a single part of their bodies that wasn’t covered in dust and dirt and I can’t imagine any dancer I know in the U.S. consenting to work under these conditions, nor should they. For Congolese artists, there’s no choice in the matter and I couldn’t help but be moved by their courage.

Congo Trip Notes: Dinner at Mom’s House

Posted in Uncategorized | December 4, 2009 | by cathyz | Leave a Comment

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The highlight of my visit has been dinner at Faustin’s mom’s house.  His family lives in the green Tshopo community named after the river that flows nearby.  It was pitch dark when we arrived and we were greeted on the road by Faustin’s mom, sister and sister-in-law, who led me through the garden lighting the path with their cell phones!

faustin-family

The family, including husbands, wives, grandchildren and grandmere live in two dwellings connected by a large mud “patio” where the cooking and most of the family activity take place. There was one oil lamp burning and that, along with the bright stars, was the only light we had.  It was so dark I couldn’t see the food, but it was delicious Congolese fare consisting of crawfish, chicken, banana fou, plantains, rice and legumes.

Like Faustin, his mom is a force and the center of lively conversation. She sat next to me and spoke in a combination of French, Swahili and Lingala which Faustin translated. There were about ten children ranging in age from one to fourteen. The fourteen year old is Faustin’s youngest sister. The older kids served the food, cleared the table, and washed the dishes.

From what I could tell, most of the conversation centered around the resignation of the Vice Governor of Kisangani who is a childhood friend of Faustin. According to Faustin, no one has ever resigned from government office. Those in government want to stay because it’s the only way to make money, which is why there’s so much corruption. The Vice Governor came to office hoping to make changes and address the rampant corruption. However, his office doesn’t really have any authority and the Governor doesn’t want to have anything to do with this agenda for change (sound familiar?). The story goes that the Governor concocted a corruption charge against the Vice Governor (he said he misappropriated money) which prompted the Vice Governor to ask for a public investigation. The Governor refused saying an investigation wasn’t necessary. The Vice Governor then offered his resignation saying that since he didn’t have the opportunity to clear his name, he would not continue to hold the office.

The whole evening was surreal and wonderful.  I’m sitting in the middle of a rural area listening to the sounds of the surrounding forest and distant singing coming from a local church. I’m eating authentic Congolese food and the traditional languages of Swahili and Lingala are being spoken all around me.  Meanwhile, cell phones ring throughout the night and a bizarre story of political corruption unfolds with the focus of the scandal being Faustin’s childhood friend.  It just doesn’t get any better than this.

….

A couple days later, it was Faustin’s son’s two-year birthday and we were having lunch at an outdoor café along the Congo River.  What’s important to note about this meeting is a question Faustin asked of his friend in the Parliament:

The question I have for you is do you think it’s possible in the Congo today to fight for an idea without being imprisoned or murdered?

The question haunts me and this is what Faustin is addressing in his newest work more, more, more …future

Congo Trip Notes: Faustin and Virginie’s Vision

Posted in Uncategorized | November 30, 2009 | by cathyz | Leave a Comment

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espace culture rehearsal space for beatricel

Faustin and Virginie strive to provide artistic opportunities and access for the local population and to bring the people and the country into contact with the broader world. Their vision is to create an arts community in Kisangani and to provide ways for artists to make a living through their art.

Just prior to my arrival, Tunisian artist Hafiz Dhaou taught a two-week workshop to a group of fifteen young aspiring hip hop dancers. Studios Kabako paid the dancers the equivalent of a decent meal and transport money to attend the workshop thereby insuring that the boys continued to come for the whole two weeks. After working with Hafiz,  three  of the more talented dancers have a fire in their belly to continue.

papy at bejarts

Papy Ebotani, an artist member of Les Studios Kabako, will teach a workshop in January.  A second workshop will take place in August 2010 possibly by  Senegalese choreographer Andreya Ouamba. Faustin and Virginie have invited some contemporary choreographers from Africa (Boyzie Cekwana and Panaibra Gabriel) to come to Kisangani, not to teach, but to exchange about their respective projects.

In October, Studios Kabako produced their third day-long music event featuring local hip hop artists which 4,000 people attended. The day was totally peaceful and created a desire in the community for more. The plan is to stage another smaller music event in December but this decision is pending fund raising since the events are free to the public.

Studios Kabako has been supporting Papy Ebotani as he’s been developing his artistic voice and teaching skills—commissioning new work and sending him abroad to perform and teach. This year, for the first time, Papy generated income for Studios Kabako.

While all this sounds very positive (and it is), life here is beyond difficult and I find myself confused and overwhelmed by what the people are up against. Faustin often feels a sense of hopelessness and sometimes wonders  why he is doing this work in Kisangani, but then there are those moments when someone “gets it.” Those moments keep him going.

Congo Trip Notes: Creating Something from Nothing

Posted in Uncategorized | November 24, 2009 | by cathyz | Leave a Comment

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I recently spent two weeks with artist Faustin Linyekula in Kisangani and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on an intensive research trip as part of The Africa Contemporary Arts Consortium.

Each trip is undertaken to a place where Consortium members have begun working relationships already and seen the potential for greater collaboration in the future. The purpose of the research trips at their most basic is to up-end the traditional approach to cross-cultural collaboration with African artists, which tends to function with an import/export model. Through traveling to the places in which these artists live and work, spending a significant amount of time with them observing and listening to daily life, we hope that our continued work with them will be informed by a greater understanding of their context and that greater understanding will lead to more equitable and valuable exchange.

Over the next several days we will post excerpts from my report to the Consortium. I look forward to hearing your feedback and responses.

Faustin and Virginie's home

Faustin and Virginie's home

My first night in Kisangani, I had dinner at the home of Faustin and Virginie. They built their house not too far outside Kisangani near the University, close to the Congo River and the forest. We drove there at night in almost total darkness stopping to buy beer, water and coca-cola at a family owned store/home. They have a three bedroom cement house – very simple with a tin roof and a nice yard with a high wood fence, luxurious by most standards. Their house is solar powered (other homes are powered by generators) but still the energy generated is not enough to power a refrigerator or to use a stove. They cook over a wood fire.

Faustin is creating a new theater work with seven performers: four  local artists, two from Kinshasa and one from Paris. The work, entitled Pour en finir avec Bérénice, is adapted by Faustin from the French tragedy of the same name, and tells a contemporary Congolese story. The Kinsangani performers, chosen through an audition in which 15 young people showed up,  have had little if any formal acting experience. They work eight hours every day.

A meal after rehearsal

A meal after rehearsal

I observed the last day of rehearsal and was reminded once again about the transformative power of art. One actress, who had no previous experience, said she was a very different person than she was four weeks ago. She hadn’t realized how hard “acting” is. It requires her to be honest and responsible to other actors. She had to find courage everyday to do the work asked of her and with courage she had accomplished unexpected things. Now she wants to apply these acts of courage in her everyday life – to speak up, to understand and defend her beliefs and to try to make a better future. Similar sentiments were echoed by all the others.

coming full circle with vuyani dance theatre

Posted in Uncategorized | November 20, 2009 | by emilyharney | Leave a Comment

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Beautiful Me, Gregory Maqoma/Vuyani Dance Theatre’s critically adored work which is currently in its sixth and last week of a debut U.S. tour,  got its start at the Bates Dance Festival in 2005 as a project of  The Africa Contemporary Arts Consortium (see the video above). The tour, also a project of the Consortium, brings the project full circle 4 years later.

Bates Dance Festival provides valuable creative time and space to contemporary African artists and is often an early step on the road to bringing these artists and their work to American audiences.  They, along with other presenters, multi-art centers and universities in the Consortium, are interested in developing relationships that go deeper than simply bringing work to the stage. Residencies including master classes, panels, informal discussions and dance parties, build upon relationships developed over years of commitment to the artist, and strengthen meaningful and poetic connections with the artist and the work. Tell us about your experience!

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