Congelese dancer Faustin Linyekula made a plainspoken and indelible impression in his solo autobiographical work Le Cargo, which premiered last night at TBA before heading to New York's Florence Gould Hall. Le Cargo tells of Linyekula's 2011 return to Obilo, the Congolese village where he spent part of his childhood. It offers a snapshot of Congolese village life, but it also tackles some pretty big artistic-philosophical questions: what does it mean to dance, really dance? Can you dance outside of geography? What difference does dancing, or art generally, really make, when you are repeatedly confronted with (as Linyekula puts it) war, crisis, war, crisis, war?
Dance is just one of Linyekula's talents; he is also an adept storyteller and admirable singer, and he makes use of all these skills in Le Cargo. The staging looks deceptively simple: Linyekula comes down front and center armed only with a small drum and a handful of books. He relays part of his story perched on the drum, talking into the mike; the rest of the time, he is moving in and around a single spotlight at stage left and a circle of spots at stage right. He describes friends and family and the ritual dances of his upbringing, and to illustrate his point, he makes great use of this arrangement, casting shadows against the back wall as he dances in the circle of lights, giving the impression of a group dance around a fire. The movement that accompanies the philosophical questions is contemporary—simultaneously disjointed and fluid. The movement that evokes the dances of his youth, for weddings, births and funerals, is African, and Linyekula immerses himself in it fully—sweat flies and viewers are left with a sense of catharsis and subsequent calm.
Linyekula tells his story twice, the second time in low light, with a computer slide-show of images from village life. It's an effective tactic—the second time, it feels familiar, almost like a folk tale. It's a piece that makes you think about life, and about art, and what bearing one has on the other.
SEE IT: Winningstad Theatre, Portland Center for the Performing Arts. 6:30 pm Friday-Saturday, Sept. 14-15. $20-$25. pica.org/TBA