The crowd-winning Bikutsi 3000 is an aspirational hymn to freedom for the continent of Africa, discovers Angela Ho.
Bikutsi 3000, Blick Bassy
State Theatre Centre Studio Underground, 10 February 2023
Anyone who’s ever seen an Afro dance party will be able to appreciate the sense of community it invokes; the infectiousness and sheer stamina of the whole thing.
“Dance in Africa is an art whose place is paramount in social life,” explains Bikutsi 3000‘s deviser and director Blick Bassy, in the show’s program notes. And in the artistically political narrative of this Perth Festival opener, dance is the peaceful weapon chosen to free modern-day Africa from its colonial influences.
Bassy, a Paris-based African soul singer, is from Cameroon, and you can tell that Bikutsi 3000 is intensely personal. “Mintaba” — the name for modern-day Africa in the show — is the village from his childhood.
“I thought it was important to bring the show here to Perth,” Bassy says before the show, soft-spoken and characteristically soulful. “I thought it might resonate.”
And the resonance is there — it just takes a little bit of searching.
With an all-female cast, this project of resistance is told through video, original score and a core group of four dancers. It unfolds as five distinct dance scenes, threaded together through narration in French by Hermine Yollo, who tells the story of the “bible of resistance” being passed down generations through five African tribes in Cameroon, Namibia, Togo, Tanzania and Rwanda and Burundi.
Each scene spans 33 years, so we end up seeing a revisionist history of Africa dating from 1885 all the way through to aspirations for a not-so-distant 2050, when it’s hoped Mintaba will be freed from colonialism and all forms of imperialism.
The English surtitles playing out across the top of the five-panel screens sometimes lag behind the narration. It shouldn’t matter — but it does distract from the viewing experience when you realise you’ve missed a word or two of the poetic text while the tribal queens are commanding your attention on the impressive screen graphics.
Luckily, the formula of the story itself is straightforward, and the isolated dance sequences are compellingly executed.
The first sequence, choreographed and danced by Nadia “Nadeeya” Gabrieli Kalati, is a perfect sampling of the energy on which the rest of the show rides. There’s a liberation to the movements, performed with intensity and amplified by the expansive sleeves of Kalati’s red dress. Her “army of dancers” (Martine Mbock, Audrey Carlita, Mwenda Marchand) prove responsive and willing.
It’s a thrill to see the juxtaposition of powerful, explosive movements with softer, fluid bounces. Even more fascinating is the individuality that each dancer brings to the choreography, so it is clear that each embodies a different dance tradition.
The fusion of contemporary aesthetics across dance and music is crowd-winning. It feels celebratory — everything from the powerful shoulder silhouettes and flaring dresses to the dance hall music reverberating through the floors. And when the full dance troupe unites for a final dance-off to applause and standing ovations, I realise belatedly that the antagonist moment I was expecting is not coming.
Why should it? Perhaps antagonist tropes are a Western idea enabled by the exact kind of colonial project which Bassy is striving to free these women from.
Bikutsi 3000 is a dance for emancipation — embodied in resistance and healing, because that’s what it needs to be.
Pictured top: The spectacular costumes add to the celebratory feel of ‘Bikutsi 3000’. Pictured is Nadia ‘Nadeeya’ Gabrieli Kalati. Photo: Jess Wyld
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