Festival of Lies
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum
November 8-10, 2007
Leaving the theatre, I am soft with remorse. I attempt Bodichitta breathing- inhaling sadness to my heart, trying to not wish away the bad feelings and seek pleasurable ones. It is the human work of acknowledging both the truly terrible and beautiful simultaneously. It seems these performers have found this ability out of necessity.
Throughout the performance the Congolese “founding fathers” banter through projected and recorded speeches. This is a country that has changed hands so many times that when called to speak the national anthem the performers aren’t sure which one to sing.
Faustin’s physical style reminds of a postmodern exploration of breakdance; he is completely fluid and masterfully articulate. Unfortunately, when the other dancers attempt to imitate, they fall short. Each so individually stunning, I am appalled that Faustin attempted to copy himself even slightly. The natural, and strong link between the movers is the shared cultural patterning in their bodies, and their brilliant ability to isolate and experiment with the elements of this cultural gestalt. This work appears to be equally rooted in cultural tradition and cultural experimentation- blending postmodern task oriented movement with the free and grounded pelvis from African tradition.
As one audience member so perfectly stated Festival of Lies starts out looking like an African Parades and Changes without the nudity. Both performed undressing, but Halprin’s is stoic and ultra simplified while Faustin’s is often hilarious with constant contact and gyration.
Faustin addresses one of my own current performance interests, the halfway presence between just hanging out and performing. When we arrived and got in line for food (local African eateries provided a buffet throughout the performance) Faustin was slowly placing florescent lights on the floor. His slow walk and intentional study of the audience were measured by occasionally singing to himself and spacing out. This mix up of performer/audience/presence/purpose came back in different ways throughout the performance. The intermission was interjected into the performance by Faustin standing up out of a clear piece of choreography to announce that we needed to buy more drinks, that the dancers needed the money.
In Festival of Lies, one female actor is paired with the three male dancers. For two thirds of the performance she was passive, yet always present- someone in the background of the protagonist’s story. Contained in heels, an everyday dress, straight hair, looking half bored with the performance, she is a presence, but next to the writhing, articulated, muscular bodies of the men I want more from her. I want her to declare her place in this revolution and I want her place to be acknowledged. I am always skeptical of a male choreographer who makes a performance that is implicitely male, lest it be accepted as a universal statement, rather than one that is specifically male and Congolese. While I am an outside and unschooled eye in the dynamics of Congolese gender relations, the difference between male and female roles in Faustin’s revolution needed explanation.
Throughout, the female narrator is reading personal testimonies: everything from passion for the “Bold and the Beautiful” soap opera and its ability to forge momentary escape, to the desire above all else to affect events outside ones daily mundane life (“I have had the right to vote for ten years, but I never did it. There has never been any election… I dream about changing the world through this gesture.”). Her tone changes as she makes the case for internal empowerment even in the face of democratic disempowerment. As I am familiar with extreme version of individualism in America, I am at first wary, but then grateful the players gain some ground somewhere.
The performance space was set up with tables and bleachers on two sides with food and drink lining one side of the dance floor. The change in space created some tension. Faustin said to eat and drink throughout, but he also said that the whole performance was a lie, so the audience sort of darted around trying not to be ostentatious. The performance space was on the same level as audience seating, but nevertheless defined. It was a bit unclear whether Faustin was ready for a “Theatre of Total Participation” (Anna Halprin) in which audience walked across the stage if that was the most direct route to their food. I wish I had the guts to jump in there, I think they asked for it. Saturday, November 10th was the big gala 6 hour festival with local talent Keith Hennessy, Amara Tabor Smith, Delina Brooks, Dohee Lee participating and other local artists spontaneously pulled into the fray. I wonder in future performances how Faustin could accomplish this intention- mixing up the performance space- even in the evening length version of Festival of Lies. How can he, and is he willing, to invite the audience to blast open the show’s own limitations?