I DANCE TO REMEMBER MY NAME - Faustin Linyekula in conversation between performances for London’s Dance Umbrella Festival

Mary Kate Connolly

Saturday night in the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the seats are reverberating. Audience and furniture alike square up to a barrage of drums, electric guitar, and sonorous vocals. Onstage three dancers articulate each and every contour of an immersive score, spurred on by gaudily clad musicians who surround them. I am watching More More Future by Democratic Republic of Congo's Studio Kabako, and the diminutive, steely figure centre-stage is Faustin Linyekula.

Established in Kinshasa by Linyekula in 2001, Studio Kabako  is a multi-disciplinary arts organisation, and the collision of dance, song and text in More More Future  reflects this. Operating somewhere between a rock concert and a dance performance, an incongruous but happy union is forged between an explosive, frenetic work and the genteel surroundings of London's South Bank Centre in which it finds itself. Permeating the scene is a feeling of no return; an instinctual force to the choreography. This begins to make sense in the latter, darker stages of the work when movement is rendered hypnotic rather than joyful, and lyrics become rasping spoken diatribes which rage against political injustices and deprivation.

A few days later and Linyekula was negotiating a very different performance space when he appeared at Laban's Bonnie Bird Theatre in Sans-titre; a spare, opaque duet with German artist Raimund Hoghe. Conceived as a confrontation betweenAfricaand the West, this work played out more as an invitation for Linyekula to enter into Hoghe's space, and within this shared framework, to interrogate notions of burden and a refusal of victimhood.

Visually, Sans-titre exhibited Hoghe's signature minimalist aesthetic: lighting understated and warm, performance space embellished by a single candle. A handful of small round stones, jangled in Linyekula's clenched fists, or laid methodically along the contours of Hoghe's naked spine, served to demarcate a particular space, to represent physically a burden, a marker. Hoghe has performed with various male dancers such as Emmanuel Eggermont and Lorenzo De Brabandere[1]. It was intriguing to see in this work such a pent-up physical presence in company with him. Alongside dancers such as Eggermont, Hoghe often assumes a wistful, dreamlike aspect. With Linyekula in Sans-titre, his figure seemed to represent something alternate: a witness to another's struggle, a quiet inclination towards fraternity.

On negotiating a political and artistic dialogue

Democratic Republic of Congo is a country with a long and turbulent history, of dictatorship, civil war, large scale displacement of people and humanitarian crises. Unmistakably this haunts the work of Linyekula and Studio Kabako.

Faustin Linyekula: I begin by putting the individual at the centre of the work - this is what I consider the truly political aspect of my work. I grew up in a single party/dictatorship regime where there was no room for individuals to exist. In a dictatorship there is only one individual, the rest are like sheep and must follow. In Zaire, you could go to prison if you wore a tie[2]. You would go to prison if there was a foreign name like Faustin or Jean on your official documents. Even in theCongo today, individuals do not really exist. I want to explore how I can work within this context, bringing the individual to the heart of the work. It becomes a question of re-imagining a way of being in a community and the [Kabako] troupe are an example of that community.

I can't seem to bring myself to a point where I choreograph unison phrases. I approach work more as a series of soli which are brought together in the same space. It is within the intellectual interaction between these soli that a group can be brought together.

On the significance of name

FL: More and more I talk about dance being an attempt to remember my own name. A name is a very small identifying mark which speaks about me, but it is also far bigger than me because when you mention a name, you begin talking about a whole web of relationships It places one in a position to start thinking about oneself but also in relation to a big picture. I think that is fundamentally the most political thing that I can do, there is a sense of connectivity and how things relate Finally, you can talk about more obvious political engagement; the struggles in the Congo for example, and how I relate to that. Most important politically however, is cultivating an understanding of how we share a common space.

On personal and collective memory

FL: Waking up one day in May 1997 to hear on the radio that my country had changed names was quite a shock and it stayed with me for a long time[3]. This began, I suppose, a personal obsession with history, an attempt to understand. The longest piece I ever did was called Festival of Lies (both a performance and six hour installation), which featured speeches from Congolese politicians spanning the past 40-50 years. This was an exploration of collective amnesia, but also of more personal memory. In 2006, I had returned toKisangani where I grew up and where it all began for me, and was trying to discover what was left of all that, and who remained among my friends. So the basic process of charting collective memory and personal memory began. I'm not interested in talking about history just for history's sake; I'm only interested if it helps me find myself in the middle of it all. Then it begins to make sense. I dance to remember my name; it was as if I'd forgotten it somewhere.

On music

Music plays a central role in both Hoghe's and Linyekula's work. Whilst the musical landscape of Sans-titre is a poignant one, featuring arias and mournful spirituals, Ndombolo, a form of Congolese pop music is the driving force behind More More Future. An urban music form, Linyekula describes it as the 'bastard daughter of rumba, traditional rhythms, church fanfares, and Sex Machine Funk'.

FL: More and more I live with the awareness that in essence, my heritage is carved from the mistakes of my fathers. I need to move forward from this. Being in theCongoand trying to observe and analyse all I can around me, I came to realise that music is really one of the last spaces that can make the Congolese dream. I needed to explore this. If this is all that is left, how can I work with it? I aimed to make it as much about the sound and the role it plays in society than the music itself. To interrogate how people get inside the music, and how people in the Congolese music scene relate to the rest of society.

Today, for most Congolese, the ultimate dream is to leave the country and come to Europe or go to America, because we believe it will definitely be better than at home. Those of us who have been here realise it is not so easy, but when you are inCongo, it seems that way. When you are familiar with the music scene from the inside, you are aware how hard it is for musicians to survive and make a living. When they perform in front of Congolese audiences however, they are held in high esteem. In order to understand our tragedy, one needs to understand the intellectual and moral misery of those people who make us dream. For the next few years to come, various forms of music from Congolese cities will continue to be at the heart of my work. This I suppose is due to the fact that I live in a city - if I were living in a village and working with traditional forms, I would certainly be interested in how they feature in people's lives, what they symbolise.

On collaborating with Raimund Hoghe

Whilst both artists are extremely different in their approach, certain shared sensibilities inhabit the work of Linyekula and Hoghe. It seems that this collaboration has offered new possibilities for Linyekula, creating a suffused dwelling space that moves and questions, but refuses to be tragic.

FL: When I do my own work, I am constantly taking care of the larger picture. Working with Raimund allowed a fixation on me alone - I was approaching work through someone else's obsessions and needing only to take care of myself. Through Sans-titre  I realised it was possible for me to just dance; storytelling would still be present, but it would not be the main starting point, as in my other works. Being in this space with Raimund, the tone was so different. I began thinking that maybe in my other work there is noise, not so much because I want to make noise, but because I'd like to reach a certain silence and don't know how to deal with it. I scream because it seems that silence is so unattainable. With Sans-titre, I could touch that space where silence can be possible. I realised that without insistence, a strong point can be made.

 

Notes



[1] Emmanuel Eggermont is a dancer who performs in Raimund Hoghe's works such as Boléro Variations, and the soloL'Après-midi.Lorenzo De Brabandere has performed with him in works such asSwanLake, 4 Actsand Sacre - The Rite of Spring.

[2] When formerZaire was under the leadership of Mobutu Sese Seko, late president ofZaire, a law was declared whereby citizens could no longer wear Western jackets and ties. As part of a return to traditional African values, the population was forced to adopt the "abacost", a collar-less jacket worn with a cravat.

[3] On 17 May 1997, following the exile of President Mobutu Sese Seko, Zaire became known as the Democratic Republic of Congo under General Laurent Kabila.

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