Festival Dance

Kalakuta Republik

Lyceum, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan

three stars

In 1970, Fela Kuti designated the original Kalakuta Republic – the compound where he, his family and followers lived and recorded music – an independent free state from the military junta that ruled Nigeria. This act, inevitably, led to harsh reprisals: after seven years, it was razed to the ground by soldiers and Kuti’s mother suffered fatal injuries. Kalakuta Republik – ‘k’ deliberately replaces ‘c’ in the name – is choreographer Serge Aimé Coulibaly’s evocation of what he sees as the radical, freedom-affirming spirit of Kuti’s compound and his music, the Afrobeat style he originated especially.

It’s this overview rather than the particulars of Kuti’s life that comes onstage, with Ivan Talbot’s score referencing Kuti’s dynamic mix of rhythms – a melange of jazz, funk, reggae and dancehall shot through with driving percussion and a big, beefy brass section – and the members of Coulibaly’s Faso Danse Théâtre surrendering their fabulously elastic bodies to whatever beat is pulsating in the moment.

All seven dancers can shape-shift from emphatic stomp’n’strut energies to a slinkier mode where blues-inflected jazz lines flow through their limbs like electric liquor. Coulibaly himself occasionally gets into the groove with them, as if his reverence for Kuti insists he move with the message. Quite what that message is, however, is not exactly clear despite the sloganising, or the grainy footage of ravaged cities and people, that is projected onto screens. The first part, delivered in monochrome costumes, is tagged “Without a story, we would go mad” - which story is open to how you read the dancers’ body language - while part two goes urban, colourful and chaotic under the heading of “You always needs a poet.” The dancers gyrate and undulate as if liberated into a sexualised consumerism – is the white powder flurrying everywhere a statement of corruption or drug abuse? Footage of Kuti performing scrolls behind the performers, but while they are vivid and visceral he is a tokenistic emblem, in this Republik.