Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

True Lies

October 30, 2007

Djodjo Kazadi, left, Papy Ebotani and Faustin Linyekula
Photo: Alex Gallardo/LAT 2007

Down in the basement of the Walt Disney Concert Hall this weekend, the good folks at REDCAT were hosting an international theater "festival" all their own with no major celebrities or giant sets. On offer instead was a visually arresting dance/theater work straight out of the Congo – or perhaps more appropriately, the Democratic Republic of Congo. But as Faustin Linyekula and his troop might themselves suggest in Festival of Lies, where in fact they are from may be a matter of some debate. The piece is concerned with perhaps one of the most socio-politically fractured regions in the world and the shifting nature of identity in such an environment. Linyekula and his fellow dancers, Papy Ebotani and Djodjo Kazadi, spend much of the evening pressing against and piling on top of one another in a dark and empty space broken only by 10 or so mobile fluorescent lights that are variously arranged in geometric patterns on the floor or carried and piled amongst the dancers limbs in various arrangements. All of this is coordinated with audio from a live house band, and numerous outtakes from a century of political speeches from the likes of Mobutu, Kabila, Lumumba and various Belgian authorities whose translated texts were projected on the blank walls of the space. This relentless source of distress was intermittently broken by the free verse of Marie-Louise Bibish Mumbu who also appeared walking back and forth across the action without actually participating in the dancing. Her humorous and insightful reflections on daily life in Kinshasa provided a stark contrast to the relentless diatribes of disembodied talking heads.

Of course Festival of Lies is a study in contrasts in and of itself. While actively incorporating the standoffish elements of the Western avant-garde, Linyekula sets the dance floor with small tables and an open bar with drinks and food, which the audience is encouraged to use throughout the performance. With the house band playing at breaks, the space is both theater and local club simultaneously. The piece is at once jarring, and crescendos to a more and more physically aggressive combat style but ends as a big dance party, the audience joining the performers in a feel-good conga line. Strangely, it almost all works despite a near derailment. After nearly two hours of these proceedings, the work suddenly changes tactics going from a more esoteric dance work into a more didactic and polemic theater piece. The dancers stop and Linyekula rolls out a giant table piled with baby doll pieces and limbs, which he and the other performers stack, move, and restack as he ponders a hypothetical meeting between Congo’s leaders past and present. Suddenly the subtlety is lost and the spell is broken.

Still, there is too much worthwhile to dismiss everything out of hand for the crash landing. Linyekula’s examination of the shifting and conflicted nature of identity in a land whose history is constantly rewritten often at the point of a colonizer or despot’s gun is both sobering and aesthetically pleasing. There are some moments of seeming deference to the leadership of Lumumba in the 60s, but there are no easy outs here. Festival of Lies will be presented throughout the West this Fall and is worth a visit.


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