Brisbane Festival & Philip Bacon Galleries
September 5 – 8 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
KVS & LES BALLETS C DE LA B (Belgium/Congo)
with Countenor Serge Kakudi
Coup Fatal, an Australian premiere exclusive to Brisbane, is perfect festival fare, full of joy and exuberance, cheeky grins and zany choreography, a cheerful band of 12 Kinshasa musicians and a countertenor to boot! It’s baroque, pop, jazz, cabaret, dance; a defiant celebration in the face of a world at war, threatening to douse our inner light.
Director, Alain Platel wanted to convey a “zest of life that resists poverty”.
Incredible shimmering golden curtains, created from cartridge cases collected in Congolese war zones, hang behind and on either side of the company, not to “make it into a message” but to offer a political context within Freddy Tsimba’s set. We can think as much as we like, later, about the appalling atrocities against the people of the Belgian Congo Basin since the 19th century, but the show is a celebration of something longer lasting.
The joy of life the Kinshasas exhibit, even in sometimes horrible circumstances, tells us more about who they are than their hardships.
Composer, Fabrizio Cassol and Musical Director & guitarist, Rodriguez Vangama, with Platel and a company of extraordinarily talented artists, have created a show to lift spirits and challenge any preconceived notions of what a “show” is. In this case, it’s a mad Congolese dance party, featuring Serge Kakudji singing baroque opera to the incessant beat of African drums, musicians and dancers cum Congolese poster boys dancing up a storm, and brightly coloured flashy fashion of the highest order, styled extravagantly in the tradition of the Sapeurs, members of the Societe des Ambianceurs et Personnes Elegantes (SAPE) – the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People. They must not only look but also behave in an elegant manner, in defiance of their war stricken surroundings. One of the highlights of the show is the return to the stage of the full company dressed this way, having shed their military style uniforms, for a big, beautiful finale, which sends out a renewed sense of vibrancy and joy de vivre, even after their exuberant (exhausting!) moves for almost 100 minutes. Talk about performance fit! It’s the most unusual, extravagant ending I’ve ever seen without the use of a glitter canon.
The musical alchemy of baroque and Congolese beats is so strange and yet so fitting, with fusion compositions by Vangama, Cassol and Coup Fatal after Handel, Vivaldi, Bach, Monteverdi and Gluck. It’s extraordinary to hear Kakudji’s pure, sweet countertenor voice soar over the sonorous voices of the dancers and later, in between the cries of “Hey!” and fun, flirtatious remarks to audience members, who are delighted to dance when invited to do so. The high-energy routines feature individuals in turn, and one in particular, Bouton Kalanda, who plays likembe throughout (and in a duelling banjos inspired opening number with Vangama on his double-headed electric guitar). Kalanda grins mischievously, flips on the spot, thrusts and gyrates and frolics and cavorts in and out of the bullet case curtains, and double pumps better than Yanis Marshall’s boys doing Beyonce.
I wanted to see these antics performed across the apron of the stage, or on a slightly higher elevation. Nevertheless, Kalanda et al show in matching military garb, white t-shirts, bare sweating, shining flesh and finally, in their brightly coloured stylish suits (and a superb kilt! and a sensational skirt of ties!) why they are so proudly representative of the irrepressible Congolese spirit.
The prevailing message, more so than any desperate plea for compassion or a way out of a dire political and civil situation, is one of living life to the fullest.
The delicious cultural crossovers, the bizarre combination of all the elements and the incredible performance energy from the heart of Africa make this show something that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
Three more productions complete the Congo Connections program during Brisbane Festival: Macbeth, Le Cargo and Future D. Fidel’s play, Prize Fighter, opening tonight at La Boite. Book online for all Brisbane festival events.