Review: Kalakuta Republik at the Lyceum

When the music plays, the dancers who make up Faso Danse Théâtre don’t just grab your attention with their liquid-snake-y hips, rolling shoulder shakes and lissome channeling of shifting rhythms, they also, whatever you think of the piece itself, continue to dazzle your eyes throughout Kalakuta Republik. Does it matter, then, if the (supposed) dots in Serge Aimé Coulibaly’s concept and choreography don’t quite join up?

Well, if you came expecting a narrative charting the life and work of Fela Kuta, then Coulibaly’s take on the now-legendary musician and political activist could puzzle and disappoint. If there is any kind of biographical element to the work, then it reflects the spirit of Kuta’s 1970 ‘Kalakuta Republic’ – a compound housing family, friends and a recording studio that he declared an independent free state from the military junta that ruled Nigeria. Soldiers brutally raided and destroyed it some seven years later.

The energies of self-determination, along with the far-ranging musical sources that Kuta brought together in his hugely influential Afrobeat genre, are mostly what come to the fore in Coulibaly’s choreography. And though some of the back-projections that are juxtaposed with various slogans (and truisms) do nod in the direction of the past, it’s the present day state of Kuta’s country that dictates aspects of the mise-en-scene. The monochrome context of Part One – enigmatically captioned  “Without a story, we would go mad” – gives way to something akin to a nightclub in Part Two (tagged as “You always need a poet”) where personal freedoms seem inclined towards decadence and clouds of white powder hint at an all-pervasive drugs scene.

Make of these images what you will, the dance – powered by Ivan Talbot’s music-mosaic referencing Kuti’s work – goes on unstintingly until, clenched fists raised, everyone exits. Grainy black and white footage of Kuti himself performing spools on upstage – he died, mysteriously, in 1997, but is such a talismanic force that anything connected to him can clearly bring in an audience and elicit ecstatic responses.

Kalakuta Republik, Lyceum, 8-11 Aug, 8pm

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