Inspired by a fictionalized account of the genocide in Rwanda, Boubacar Bori Diop's Murambi, The Book of Bones, and interviews with survivors, Germaine Acogny, artistic director of the Senegal-based Compagnie Jant-Bi, and Japanese Butoch choreographer Kota Yamazaki did what seems impossible. They shone a light on one of the most horrific crimes of the late twentieth century and created beauty, out of it. Fagaala, which means "genocide" in Wolof, doesn't accuse or explain. It simply holds up a mirror to humanity's capacity for violence. As human beings we may try to deny it, but like a dormant volcano. Fagaala tells us, the destructive forces inside us can and will periodically erupt. Painters like Bosch, Goya. and Picasso have grappled with that darkest side of human nature. Fagaala does it through dunce
The barest of narrative threads winds its way through this seventy-minute journey, which leads Jant-Bi's eight male dancers from communal identity to disintegration, degradation, and madness. There is no happy ending, just a vision or distinct individuals who have gone through hell. At one point a serpentine unison with the men's arms around each other's shoulders suggests something akin to reconciliation. But the line evaporates. As the lights fade, the dancers move toward us, their eyes trying to engage ours.
Fagaala's images are often explicit--masturbation, self-mutilation, defecation, giving birth. Two friends explode into attacking each other. A supine man is roughly dragged off like a carcass. Another leafs up from the floor and is caught in the agony of death. These images are not easy to look at, but they accumulate to create a fractured and roiling environment where nothing shocks or surprises.
Almost more disconcerting are the ambiguities. A man with his back to us repeatedly crosses himself, yet never moves. A clown figure is hilarious and yet looks insane. A man's offstage moan is echoed--is he being mocked or sympathized with?
The combination of Butoh and both traditional and contemporary African movement languages works surprisingly well. The dancers' sense of timing and rhythmic engagement differs, but the connection to the ground and a certain ritualistic thrust create the common base on which Fagaala is built. While the dancers clearly are used to moving with speed and externalized energy, they are also trained in focused control and precise placement. They had absorbed enough of Yamazaki's Butoh approach to reality to suggest that nightmares are not just bad dreams.
Not everything worked. A crawling mass with all ashen-faced dancer peeking out of a white shroud, implying an impending catastrophe, was simplistic. About two-thirds of the way through, the piece seemed to lose some of its trajectory. It could not quite find its way to a convincing end. The final image, while effective in itself, looked tagged on.
Jean-Yves Gratius and Fahrice Bouillon-Laforest's multi layered score supported Fagaala with African, Western, and synthesized music punctuated by extended sections of silence.
During the after-performance discussion (moderated by this writer), Acogny, in explaining her motivation, said, "I am air African woman who has to cry for Africa without crying."
COMPAGNIE JANT-BI 69 DEBORAH HAY 71 NASHVILLE BALLET 72 PAT GRAYNET DANCE COMPANY 74 ODC/SAN FRANCISCO 76
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|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||May 1, 2004|
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