New Zealand Festival 2020; In Search of Dinozord; Faustin Linyekula, Thu 27 Feb – Sat 29 Feb, 7.30pm; Soundings Theatre, Te Papa. Reviewed by Lyne Pringle
As a palangi/pakeha writer I am privileged to attend and review Lemi Ponifasio’s curation for the first week of the New Zealand Festival of the Arts.
The works presented bring to mind the words of street artist Banksy: “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
The theatre space has been decolonised and filled with indigenous voices.
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None of the messages are easy to witness. It is demanding theatre. We do not sit back in our seats and “have a good night out”. The experience is one of concentration and effort followed by deep reflection and questioning.
It is a brave move to take the risk that audiences are up for the challenge. Around town this is probably still being debated.
In Seach of Dinozord is a cry of despair and a plea of hope for the turangawaewae of creator Faustin Linyekula – his beloved Republic of Congo, which has been tattered by war and political unrest during the course of his life.
His diminutive, yet powerful, figure shivers into an agonising spasm with a crescendo of screeching sound to begin the performance.
He has a white face and flickering hands for the entire performance and is later joined in this guise by the other performers. This is one of multiple signifiers in a performance deep with symbolism.
Linyekula’s dancing is supported by Jean Kumbonyeki, Yves Mwamba, Michel Kiyombo.
They move from tender moulding and shaping gestures, to precarious inversions, to exasperated crashes onto the ground, to taut muscular implosions, to micro pelvic grinding which evoke an obscene distillation of their traditional dance forms, curtailed and distorted by circumstances.
Culture made barely articulate. Desperate.
Recorded sound is uncredited in the programme, other sources cite them as Mozart’s Requiem sung by the Charles Lwanga Choir of Kisangani and organ music by Arvo Pärt, alongside traditional songs.
The narrative is opaque and multifaceted, braided with the creation of Linyekula’s version of Mozart’s Requiem 14 years earlier. It is embedded with a dream that “theatre can change the world”.
Eventually, through multiple languages, French (some translated) Swahili and English a tangible story emerges of the quest to create a performance that will become a “grave for Kabako” whose poignant poetry is projected onto a screen throughout the work.
Linyekula’s final solo is a twitching, frenetic, bird-like flurry amidst a circle of papers that symbolise the writings of his departed friend Kabako.
Hlengiwe Madlala is an expansive presence who sings intermittently. Her voice soars melodiously like the rising trill of a skylark.
In the final scene she joins Jean Kumbonyeki with a guttural chant above Jimi Hendricks Voodoo Chili. It is an aural rendition of despair whilst Kumbonyeki ripples his body into an exasperated and desperate krump.
This leaves him harrowed and depleted but yet with a flicker of defiance.
Actors Antoine Vumilia Muhindo and Papy Maurice Mbwiti support the narration. Muhindo has his own story of incarceration, torture and exile.
In this bleak work, his constant tapping on a typewriter is the sound of hope. He is credited with the text alongside Richard Kabako. Stories will continue to be told and through the telling new futures will unfold.