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In Performance

In Performance: Serge Aimé Coulibaly, Kalakuta Republik (Tanz im August)

In Performance: Serge Aimé Coulibaly, Kalakuta Republik (Tanz im August)

Kalakuta Republik
Serge Aimé Coulibaly
Tanz im August, HAU 1
August 11-12

Kalakuta Republik, by the Burkinabé choreographer Serge Aimé Coulibaly, takes its name from the residence of the Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti, a commune which Kuti declared to be independent of the Nigerian state. The tension between artists and political systems, the contribution of art to popular revolt and perhaps revolution, drives this thrilling, energetic performance. Though the piece draws inspiration from Kuti’s life and work, Coulibaly is not concerned with biographical or historical recreation. Rather he is in choreographic dialogue with Kuti as countercultural leader, asking his own questions about the social responsibility of artists in Africa and around the globe today.

At the beginning of the performance, six dancers all in black/white/gray assemble into a tableau of relative stasis, marking the beat with simple, repetitive gestures. The entrance of a seventh performer (who commands a bandleader’s authority throughout, the closest the performance comes to putting Kuti himself onstage) catalyzes the others: they throw themselves into relentless motion that barely lets up for the remainder of the performance. Coulibaly arranges the dancers in constantly shifting combinations, now pulling out one dancer in opposition to the others, now splitting them into several duets. Relationships emerge and are quickly recombined; the choreography offers moments of mutual support and antagonism, shared joy and shared rage. All this establishes the performers as a population, a living, breathing assemblage of interconnected citizens with agency both as individuals and a dynamic collective.

In the performance’s second half, the question of how they will use that agency emerges. Color explodes onto the set and the dancers’ outfits. Haze, disco lighting, and thumping music take over the entire theater, and the atmosphere turns both festive and violent. The performers spew beer from their mouths, strip down to their underwear, knock metal chairs around the stage. In the midst of the chaos are moments of sudden hope and clarity: one woman perseveres in singing a soaring anthem even as a man blows smoke in her face and all over her body. Another man grabs a mic and proclaims “I can be the president of my country!” In these moments, and in the piece’s unflagging forward momentum, Coulibaly locates a determined drive toward an imagined future, and issues a call to all artists (and all citizens) to take up this drive in our own work, in our own resistance.

Photo: Doune Photo

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Theater artist based in NYC and Pittsburgh. MFA candidate in Directing, Carnegie Mellon University.

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