- Lucy Ribchester
- 12 August 2019
Dancing the Afrobeats of iconic musician and activist Fela Kuti
So tightly is the choreography welded into the feverish melodies of Fela Kuti's looping, soul-grabbing Afrobeat music in the first half of this piece from Faso Danse Théâtre, that it feels like watching notes of jazz take human form. The focus each dancer has in their own private body, and the chaotic harmony this creates as a whole, is spellbinding.
Sometimes they slide seamlessly into mirror-synchronicity for a few bars, like two musicians jamming a harmonious riff. Then a solo dancer will take the stage, flourishing their own style. The movements are sharp, packed with dynamism, and the stamina and focus of the performers through 30-minutes of non-stop dancing to intense, complicated music is awe-inspiring.
Choreographer Serge Aimé Coulibaly created this piece as a response to both the music of Fela Kuti – the pioneer of Afrobeat in 1970s Nigeria – and his attitudes. Kuti was radically political throughout his career, was imprisoned multiple times, and had his studio premises viciously raided. The title refers to the commune he created where political philosophy had as much of a place as febrile partying, but which eventually burned to the ground after an assault by 1000 soldiers. In the first act, alongside the free-seeming movement there's a fervour and an energy that grips the dance; a circle of chairs at the back of the stage suggests this is a place of dialogue and ideas.
But it's a show of two distinct halves, and after the interval the same space is transformed into the den of an after party, sensual, smoky, drugged. A dancer performs a slow, concentrated solo on top of a stage-equipment box, weaving in African belly dance. Coulibaly, his face painted half white, orates from the rear. It becomes a storm of colour, messy movement and ambiguous tone, mixing violence and ecstasy, and there is a short point at which it comes close to disappearing into self-indulgence.
But the beauty that emerges from this apex, as the dancers leave the stage, stately, held aloft by each other and gesturing a sombre looped code with their arms, washes the storm clean and leaves the piece on a haunting note.
The Lyceum, run ended. Part of the Edinburgh International Festival.