It is a very powerful sequence indeed, and leaves you wishing the rest of the show had matched it.
Kalakuta Republik was conceived by Serge Aimé Coulibaly, a dancer originally from Burkina Faso in West Africa, now based in Belgium, for his Faso Dance Théâtre. The work was inspired by that giant of African music and political militancy, Nigeria’s Fela Kuti (1938–1997).
You cannot overstate the influence of Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat music in Africa and beyond; and his struggle against corruption in Nigeria became an inspiration across the continent.
Kalakuta Republik was the name Fela Kuti gave to the commune and recording studio he set up in 1970s Nigeria, using it as a springboard from which to criticise the country's corrosive corruption. This, inevitably, brought him into serious confrontation with the authorities.
Coulibaly tells us in a brief programme note that his own Kalakuta Republik is ‘a place of freedom,’ where himself and his dancers try to understand the world through questioning and engagement. That may be the intention, but it’s not how it comes across.
The work comes in two parts: Part 1, under the heading ‘Without a Story We Would Go Mad’ is set in a ramshackle living room where the dancers of Faso Dance Théâtre perform their own pulsating blend of hip hop and African dance.
Sadly, they perform to recorded music; and although the sound is crisp and immediate, the lack of a live band on stage does detract from the overall impact of the show.
Yvan Talbot’s score falls under Afrobeat, but its beat is so uniform throughout the 40 minutes or so of this section, that it becomes rather hypnotic in a mostly soporific way. At regular intervals, hazy aerial shots of urban Africa are projected onto large screens either side of the stage. The dancers dance on, as if at a house party.
After the interval, the stage is bathed in shifting light, rather like a seedy nightclub, an impression which is reinforced by a woman performing a blatantly sexual dance on atop a box.
The theme ‘You Always Need a Poet’ gives way to other mottos, for example, ‘Decadence can be an end in itself.’ The score becomes more varied, at one point breaking into rhythm and blues. The dancing is now entirely sexual with much pelvic and backside action.
Chaos and mayhem ensue, chairs are thrown around the stage and talcum powder poured onto stage and furniture to create clouds of dust. One man staggers around with his trousers round his ankles.
And when you’ve just despaired of getting any sense out of it, that stunning final sequence unequivocally makes the point the rest of the show had failed to make, despite the arresting talent and energy of all its dancers.
|Kalakuta Republik Review
|Barbican Theatre, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, E2CY 8DS | MAP
30 May 19 – 01 Jun 19, 19:45 Dur.: 1 hour 25 mins inc one interval
|£28 (half-price for under-16s)
|Click here to book