Dance as Storytelling in Faustin Linyekula’s Le Cargo

photo credit: Agathe Poupeney

by Tara Giangrande for The Dance Journal

Those present at FringeArts on Saturday afternoon for Faustin Linyekula’s performance of Le Cargo were confronted with a frank introduction to the mind of a conflicted artist.  Alluding to his many internationally acclaimed productions addressing the legacy of war and crisis in his homeland of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Linyekula delivered a harrowing monologue in which he questioned whether the the subjects of the stories he told had been positively impacted by his work.  Might it be better to leave the people of his homeland to die in peace?

Throughout this monologue, Linyekula referred to himself as a storyteller.  Nevertheless, he assured his audience, “I am not here to tell stories.  I am here simply to dance.”

Yet Linyekula had already begun to share the tale of his quest to locate his own purpose through dance.  This odyssey of sorts comprised smaller stories: his initial exposure to contemporary dance, his first memories of dance in his childhood village of Obilo, his enduring curiosity about ritual dances performed at night from which he was banned as a child.

As he stepped away from the microphone and began to dance, Linyekula’s movements revealed more detailed stories.  Guided by the ambient electric guitar of Flamme Kapaya, Linyekula’s movements were decidedly in the mode of contemporary Western dance.  Dancing within a single ray of light that extended diagonally from stage left, his energy was focused on the external limits of his limbs, which were made to stretch, lunge, and arc in linear qualities.   Contortions of the arms and legs, which hung from his hunched torso, conveyed deep introspection.

As the sounds of the guitar faded, they were replaced with rhythms produced by drummers in the village of Obilo.  Linyekula now moved inside a circle of six individual stage lights that faced each other at stage right.  As the lights shown on Linyekula’s body, his shadow was projected in dramatic scale onto the black curtains enclosing the stage.  As Linyekula and his shadows danced in unison, their movements were intensely percussive, undulating in response to each beat and reverberating out from the core of a torso rigorously engaged in motion.  These were the movements, performed in the collective presence of friends and family, that formed Linyekula’s first memories of dance in Obilo.

Again, the music faded, and Linyekula moved back toward the microphone.  He spoke of his quest to Obilo in 2011 to discover the night dances that captured his imagination as a child.  His hopes were dashed when he found that the village had abandoned these ritual dances amid the Christian evangelical fervor that had taken hold there in recent years.

Linyekula continued to move in and out of his roles as an international storyteller, a dancer on the contemporary stage, and a dancer among his village community.  As the movements he executed and the words he spoke within these spaces became increasingly fragmented, overlapping and folding into one another, Linyekula delivered a powerful statement to the audience.

With tongue in cheek, he demonstrated the impossibility of his initial promise “to simply dance.”  For Linyekula, dance could not be separated from the stories he told, for his dance inherently contained and expressed those stories.

Contrasting the linear, self-reflective qualities of Western contemporary dance with the circular, communal nature of dance in Obilo, Linyekula illustrated the extent to which dance reflects the evolving values of a society or individual.  Interspersing fragments recalled from his personal history, he pieced together a moving manifesto of his journey and intentions as an artist.

The audience, grateful to witness a part of that journey, responded with a standing ovation.

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