Two participants in our Writing Dance workshop, led by Dance International editor Kaija Pepper, review Faustin Linyekula’s Le Cargo, presented January 29-31, 2015 by The Dance Centre and the Push International Performing Arts Festival.
A journey from war and crisis to meaning
By Zoe Quinn
It’s a universal question - “what is the point?” - to be on the constant prowl to determine a purpose to the things we do, be it work, family responsibilities or personal projects. For Faustin Linyekula, in his performance of Le Cargo (2011) at the PuSh Festival, the question went deep. Not merely existential angst, the work dealt with the very survival of his culture. He reconstructed the oral tradition of his village of Obilo—the stories, songs, dances, and rites of passage - that were decimated in the past 20 years by a molotov cocktail of disease, war, crisis and Western intervention. From the outset in Le Cargo, he pondered if his work, after 10 years of dancing, has made a difference. Linyekula’s raw performance was captivating—his power and also his restraint.
Now based in Kisangani, Linyekula was both charismatic and humble as he travelled back to childhood memories and returned to the village as an adult, talking in a soft, lilting voice. Subtly, yet emphatically, he layered storytelling, dance, music and song, each nudging the other to reveal aspects of village life, lost and found.
Linyekula deftly connected the traditional with the contemporary - barefoot, in a brown t-shirt with faint tribal markings running down the spine and a skirt-like wrap of brown cloth. It was understated and somber. The music also meandered from the past to the present, but in contrast to his dress it was upbeat - progressing from blues-style guitar to tribal drumming, choral to a cappella singing. His dance styles also oscillated from tribal movements to more current forms. He often adopted a hunkered stance - rhythmic and fluid - his head jerked, arms stretched out with fingers flared, tapping or beating his chest drum-like. The performance rose in energy when his first story was re-introduced as a recording. His movements built to reverberations, pulsating to a near-ecstatic furor. The repetition resonated with his search for meaning and purpose - where he had come from and who he was as an artist.
Le Cargo is Linyekula’s debut as a solo artist and he has toured the work in Africa, North America and Europe. He took a low-tech production approach. Given the poverty of the region, it might well have been driven by economic necessity or a conscious decision to be simple and resourceful. Six spotlights on stage-floor level were daisy chained in a tight circle to represent his village, casting shadows as he moved so as to evoke nighttime tribal dancing. Two additional spotlights on the floor were used at one point to give his taut frame and slow movements a beautiful sculptural quality. He also played with Western theatrical conventions—the house lights dimmed and brightened throughout the performance, disconcerting at first, yet resulting in a more of a personal connection with his performance.
Near the close, Linyekula unplugged the circle of lights and set up a laptop to scroll through images of his village, landscape, family and friends—the traditions might have waned; but the people and land remain. It did feel like an unnecessary distraction with our usual expectation for a bit more production gloss, yet it was true to the bare bones aesthetic of the work.
I was on a journey with Linyekula, his performance, while rooted in his past was to provide for a more promising future for his family - art for social awareness and change on a micro-level. After studying and working in Kenya and Europe, Linyekula returned home in 2001 to established Studios Kabako, to create multi-disciplined work and train the next generation of Congolese artists. Linyekula’s main focus may not have been dance in Le Cargo, but he reflects a culture where storytelling, dance and artistic practice go hand-in-hand, and he told his story with sincerity and authenticity.
The story, of a story, that changes the storyteller
By Carolina Bergonzoni
Let me tell you a story. A fifty-five minute long story. The story of Faustin Linyekula, born in 1974 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The story of a dancer, choreographer, singer and storyteller, who has traveled around Africa to study dance. Then, back home in 2001, he founded Studios Kabako, school and production space for different art forms. Linyekula, through his voice and dance, tells us this story. His story.
Le Cargo (2011), Linyekula’s first solo piece, was performed as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. The stage was already set at the Scotiabank Dance Centre in Vancouver. Six lights created a circle, two shin-busters located in the upstage, and a microphone downstage. Nothing changed when Linyekula - with soft-steps, dressed in a black skirt and shirt, with two books and a carved stool in his hands - entered the stage.
He created the perfect scenario to narrate the story, besides he is a storyteller, as he claimed. Linyekula captured the attention of his audience and engaged with them in his intimate journey. He investigated his history with dance, sharing doubts with the audience: after ten years of creating dance pieces and of attempting to tell stories, he questioned “Does this dance make any difference?”
Linyekula’s first memory about dance is a little village where people danced to celebrate events, his first memory is the village of Obilo, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he lived until 1982.
The greatest strength of Le Cargo, which has toured in Europe, Africa and America, is the story. Linyekula narrates his story in an alternation of dance, music, and voice. His voice is so beautiful - and his dance not strong enough - that when the piece became mute, something is missed.
With winding movements of pelvis and twisting of trunk and shoulders, he moved in a tunnel of light coming from the shin-busters. Eventually, he arrived at the circle of lights, where he danced around referring to images of traditional dances. He beat his chest with his hand, while he was moving inside in a grounded, perhaps primordial and ritual, dance. On the one hand, Linyekula was alone in a sort of trance; on the other hand, he looked like he was surrounded by people in Obilo. Recorded noises, sounds, voices, and his dance immersed the spectators in an imaginary crowded ritual dance. However, the shadows of his figure - projected in the background - reminded us that he was dancing alone. He was telling us a story, and we were not involved in it.
Linyekula’s whole body was in a tremor. He came back to sit on the stool. Appearing exhausted and desperate, he knelt down. He shouted. No more words for this story, no more attempts of explanation. The lights turned off and in the darkness the recorded audio of his story started.
For the last time, he told us his story. He told us how terrible are war and colonization, and the role of dance in a small village in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He told us how much power a story could have, and how it makes a difference.
Did you see Faustin Linyekula's Le Cargo? What did you think of the performance? Share your comments below!
The Dance Centre’s Global Dance Connections series continues with MACHiNENOiSY February 4-7, presented with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.
Photo by Agathe Poupeney