Sunday, September 10, 2017

Faustin Linyekula's "Banataba [new work]" at Met Museum

Dance artist Faustin Linyekula
is Crossing the Line's Mr. September.
(photo courtesy of FIAF)

Banataba [new work]'s world premiere at The Metropolitan Museum of Art yesterday afternoon launched a major series of events featuring acclaimed Congolese dancer-choreographer Faustin Linyekula as part of French Institute Alliance Française' annual Crossing the Line festival which runs through October 15. This month, Linyekula will also present events with FIAF's co-presenters NYU SkirballDancing in the Streets and 651 ARTS in partnership with several other organizations (catch up on all of it here). Clearly, it's the September of Linyekula...and of widespread collaboration.

Commissioned by MetLiveArts and inspired by the museum's Kongo: Power and Majesty exhibition (2015), Banataba [new work] is performed in the Met's Spanish Renaissance Vélez Blanco Patio. It employs visual, kinetic and verbal storytelling as we ponder the meaning of objects created in native cultures and appropriated by museums. An hour-long duet for Linyekula and his enchanting collaborator Moya Michael (South Africa), it includes video and photographic elements representing the forested earth, the waters and the people of Linyekula's homeland.

The confined yet fixed, linear setup of the space--several rows of audience seating facing forward; video projected on the not-so-broad base of a statue or against the wall; headshots of unsmiling villagers gazing directly into the camera--works against a possibility of effectively immersing observers within these visual elements. At the same time, it's also possible that the choreographer chose separation rather than an easier connection and familiarity. After all, this piece appears to be about his ultimate decision to withhold and protect a precious discovery.

Much of the live performance involves the toting and gingerly careful transfer of a cloth-wrapped parcel from dancer to dancer, each either gazing at the other or slowly, gracefully bending and turning away with the mysterious object cradled in his or her arms. We listen to Linyekula chanting, singing or (sometimes near inaudibly due to the room's muddying acoustics and his sweet, soft voice) relaying a tale about visiting his mother's village.

We watch the unwrapping and assembly of the parts of the wooden object on top of a platform and the way this revelation makes the dancers jerk, tremble and eventually shake violently. While it becomes clear that this object--which the dancers will labor to reassemble with poignant yet also comical difficulty--is not the actual one Linyekula saw in his village, it stands in for it. Eventually, it stands--quite literally--and they glide it forward, close to the edge of our front row. Arms stretched out wide to each side, it gazes at us.

Aspects of Banataba [new work] suggest human bodies as tuning forks, dowsing rods or formidable, spirit-inhabited objects of power (nkisi). And as supple branches on trees whose ancient roots continuously supply information and nourishment. Just as we need to understand the contextual significance of the crafts created and valued by a people, so too do we need to comprehend the people themselves within the living fabric of their own culture and environment.

Banataba [New Work] continues with performances today at 12pm and 3:30pm. Seating is limited. For information and ticketing, click here.

Gallery 534, Vélez Blanco Patio
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan
(map/directions)

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