Kinshasa Electric

15, 17, 18/05 – 20:30
16/05 – 22:00
± 1h

In her performances, choreographer Ula Sickle traces the individual histories of dancers and the way their movements are culturally and politically coloured. For the past several years she has been fascinated by the popular dance styles in the nightclubs of Kinshasa, a melting pot of diverse and complex identities that are far from her own Western dance background. In dialogue with two performers from Kinshasa, she created the solos Solid Gold (2010) and Jolie (2011). In 2014, Ula Sickle returned to the Congolese capital in order to construct a group performance. Four young dancers and a DJ release their energy on stage. With virtuosity, they tell of their desires, disappointments, and visions of the future. The individual voices write a collective story based on cultural movements. Why are we still dancing while the social fabric continues to unravel around us? Ula Sickle places our postcolonial, a priori leanings, and our ideas about art, under high voltage. A generous exchange process.

Ula Sickle

Creation, performance & style
Popaul Amisi, Daniela Bershan, Jeannot Kumbonyeki Deba, Joel Makabi Tenda

Music concept & live sound
Baba Electronica (Daniela Bershan)

Jolie Ngemi

Ula Sickle, Daniela Bershan

Lighting design
Ula Sickle, Gwen Laroche

Sébastien Hendrickx

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, KVS

Executive production
Caravan Production (Brussels)

Production assistant Kinshasa
Dada Kahindo Siku

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, KVS (Brussels), Noorderzon Performing Arts Festival (Groningen), SPRING Performing Arts Festival (Utrecht)

Supported by
Vlaamse Overheid – Internationale projecten, Vlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie

This project is co-produced by
NXTSTP and DÉPARTS, with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union

Special thanks to
Mohamed Bourouissa, Tale Dolven, David Helbich, Paul Kerstens

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4.3250° S – 15.3222° E

About Kinshasa Electric by Ula Sickle

“Are there any musics left that have not heard some other music?” wrote the recently deceased cultural theorist Stuart Hall in a 1991 essay on the development of culture in a globalised world. Now, more than 20 years later, the processes of cultural hybridisation and homogenisation that Hall analysed are going faster than ever. And it was not only the global mobility of capital, goods, and people that exploded after the end of the Cold War. Thanks to the advent of the internet and an endless array of new communication technologies, geographical distance no longer posed an obstacle to mobility. Today we can travel without leaving our seat. We can simultaneously find ourselves here and elsewhere. The effect of today’s hyper-mobility on culture is obviously enormous. Continuously, millions of cultural expressions are circulating online and offline. They cross, mix, and fertilise one another. This increased mobility has led to cultural wealth, but to poverty as well. All over the world, the same generic modes, songs, dance steps, and lifestyles emerge.

Kinshasa Electric is as much a product of these ambiguous developments as a reflection on them. The Polish-Canadian choreographer and dancer, Ula Sickle, who since 2008 has regularly worked in Kinshasa, invited Daniela Bershan to work together with her on her new performance. The Israeli-German visual artist and DJ, aka Baba Electronica, made her name with a fearless mix of rhythms from various corners of the world. The wilful dancers: Jeannot Kumbonyeki Deba, Joel Makabi Tenda, and Popaul Amisi, were already acquainted with Sickle from her previous visits to the Congolese capital. They know everything about the dance styles that are currently popular in Kinshasa but that often come from elsewhere. Kinshasa Electric takes the local dance scene as the intersection within a worldwide web. In the concert halls and nightclubs of central Africa’s megapolis, which tallies more than 10 million inhabitants, dance is reinvented anew every night.

Whoever goes to see Kinshasa Electric seeking a Polish-Canadian-German-Israeli-Congolese intercultural mix will find it worth the effort. The eclectic collection of materials that the five members of the team work with obviously does not coincide with the sum of their cultural origins. In a globalised world, their frames of reference widen and overlap more and more. Yet they do not all have the same access to mobility. By way of the tightly controlled borders between Africa and Europe and within Africa itself, Tenda, Amisi, and Kumbonyeki cannot just travel like Sickle and Bershan do. Thanks to their smartphones, though, they are in daily contact with countless worlds beyond their own local context. All three embody the figure of the afropolitain, a term introduced by Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe: “L’afropolitanisme se construit au détour de ces pratiques de la circulation, qui sont comme le sous-sol culturel des sociétés africaines. (…) Il s’agit d’une identité qui cherche à embrasser le monde et non à se constituer comme une humanité à part.” (Afropolitanism is constructed at the bend in these circulatory practices, which are like the cultural basement of African societies. (…) It is an identity that seeks to embrace the world and not to form a separate humanity.) Ula Sickle chooses to focus on the numerous exchanges and commitments that are possible between Kinshasa and the rest of the world instead of the distance that separates them. Therefore, Kinshasa Electric may well be situated somewhere halfway between the present and a possible future.

The performance took shape bit by bit in rehearsal rooms and nightclubs in Kinshasa and Brussels, via emails, Facebook messages, and early morning Skype calls. Within this transnational artistic working process the five members of the team exchanged pop songs, clothing styles, ideas, and life stories. Sometimes they tried to place themselves in each other’s roles. During a rehearsal, for example, Tenda taught Bershan out some simple dance steps, while Kumbonyeki explored Bershan’s drum computer. The group mostly worked in an organic, freestyle mode. Various combinations of dance and music were tried out. Sickle also wanted to see the qualities of openness, collaboration, ingenuity, and surprise that characterised the working process translated into the performance itself. In Kinshasa Electric the relationships between the individual performers and between the performers and the roles they play are also in constant motion. Fixed scenes are combined with moments of improvisation. And in every city where the production will take place, the group invites an extra dancer, MC, or DJ for a guest appearance. The principle of ‘featuring’ that comes from the world of pop music will continue to place the performance in a different perspective each time. During the set at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Jolie Ngemi is the invited guest. She is the Congolese dancer from Sickle’s solo show Jolie (2011), who in the meantime has begun training at P.A.R.T.S.

Ula Sickle’s interest in contemporary popular music and dance already surfaced in Jolie, and that very interest is what binds the five artists in her latest production. These popular cultural expressions often have a strong tendency toward commercialisation, standardisation, blurring of norms, and social escapism. Kinshasa Electric seeks to explore the complexity and richness therein without passing any judgement. Because they can transcend the language barrier, popular dance and music are the playing fields of choice for millions of cultural exchanges in a globalised world. The source of many music and dance styles becomes difficult to determine, since they come from a copy of a copy of an original that has been lost. Daniela Bershan claims, for instance, that it is impossible to answer the question of where the current form of hip hop originated. According to her, the complexity manifests itself on yet another important level. Popular music cannot be separated from the elements that directly surround it, like the dance and clothing styles of a musician, the attitude, mythology, the graphic design of the merchandising, etc.: “It’s not just music, you know.” Typically, that extensive amalgam of materials forms a web of contradictions and ambiguities. Bershan’s holistic approach to popular music is also reflected in the handling of dance, scenography, and costumes in Kinshasa Electric.

The performance moved popular music and dance from the context of everyday life to that of contemporary dance. Kinshasa Electric is not a party that the visitor can merely participate in, since already in advance the theatrical setting institutes a critical distance. For the performers, a large part of the work therefore consisted of recontextualising and transforming the customs and codes connected to their own practice. Above all, Joel Makabi Tenda, Jeannot Kumbonyeki Deba, and Popaul Amisi – as they themselves say – dance des shows in Kinshasa, choreographies of five to nine minutes that are created to entertain the public. Something like Kinshasa Electric we call un spectacle. Which lasts a lot longer, contains variations in intensity, and wants to evoke thoughts and feelings. Daniela Bershan also went looking for the ‘other DJ’ in herself, by experimenting with the volume, manipulating the music as if she were a sculpture and giving her own role on stage an appropriate conceptual interpretation. How could they allow the public to listen to dance music in a different way and to watch popular dance without the annoying feeling that they cannot even dance along? Despite these metamorphoses, the ‘nightclub’ and the ‘party’ obviously remain important references to what happens on stage. And of course – hopefully – the audience can meanwhile also have some fun. Ula Sickle prefers to describe Kinshasa Electric as un show-spectacle.

Of all the music and dance styles that circulate in contemporary Kinshasa, Coupe Décalé have exerted the greatest influence by far on Kinshasa Electric. This hybrid style, which builds on Caribbean Zouk rhythms, was, according to tradition, developed in an Ivorian nightclub in Paris before it conquered large parts of the African continent. The name literally means: cut and shift. Musically, it always returns a particular pattern of sampled rhythms and sounds – the clip – but each time in a slightly modified form because, for example, something is removed or added. At the macro level of the entire performance, this mechanism of repetition and variation is present when elements that are introduced at a certain moment can return later with another materiality or intensity – from the music through the voice via the movement and on to the style of dress. At the micro level, they are visible in the ‘stuttering’ of a sample or the body of a dancer. This occurs when an ultra-short audio or motion fragment is repeated with great speed and minute variations.

The choreography in Kinshasa Electric relies on a dense set of references to which each viewer relates differently. What is recognisable and legible to anyone who attends the show in Brussels might not be to a spectator in Kinshasa, where the production will also be performed. And yet, despite the great distance that separates them, there will be overlaps. Kinshasa Electric raises the question of how in this globalised cultural landscape of jagged hybridity and flat homogeneity you can develop your own singular voice. How can you make your own the aspects of a culture that were not originally yours and the elements of a mass culture that is both no one’s and everyone’s?

Sébastien Hendrickx

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Ula Sickle (CA/PL/BE) is a choreographer and performer, living and working in Brussels. She studied Art History in Toronto and Performance Studies in Paris before attending P.A.R.T.S. in Brussels. From 2008 to 2010 Ula studied film and video at Le Fresnoy – Studio National des Arts Contemporains in Tourcoing (FR). While her work takes many forms, from film to installation to live performance, it is frequently informed by a choreographic approach to movement and a work on perception and reception, specific to the live arts. Her interest in looking for an alternative to the canon of contemporary dance, has led her to seek out performers who embody other movement histories – such as in her collaborations with performers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Solid Gold, 2010 & Jolie, 2011), or in her work with an self-taught dancer Marie De Corte (Extreme Tension, 2012). Frequently centered around a strong performer, in these recent solo works Ula Sickle searches for forms of choreographic writing, where the culture coding and political power of popular dancing can be revealed or where the musicality and materiality of the body itself take centre stage. Next to Kinshasa Electric, which will premiere during the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in May 2014, Ula Sickle is also working on a new creation due to premiere in November 2014 at the Kaaitheater.

For Kinshasa Electric Ula Sickle collaborates with three Congolese performers: Joel Makabi Tenda and Popaul Amisi from the hip hop group Art-Con from Kinshasa and Jeannot Kumbonyeki Deba, a dancer she met in Kisangani in 2009 while giving a dance and video workshop at the invitation of Studios Kabako/Faustin Linyekula. The three performers were finalists in the Vodacom dance competition, a reality show televised live in the DR Congo and are now part of the dance troupe associated with the mobile phone company.

Daniela Bershan a.k.a. Baba Electronica (DE/IL) is a media vagabond and fearless sampler. Complex forms and material processes recur on different levels in her permeable practice that ranges from sculpture and paintings to performance, music and social organization. Her work – influenced by science, love, aesthetics and fiction - proposes a material understanding of life that requires and circulates different practices of immediacy, thus expanding possibilities of an open contact with the world.

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