Ritual songs and dances from the Mongo country

By The Walo W'Afeka Compagny (Democratic Republic of Congo)

Choreographer: Marie Ekaba
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A folk troupe: Walo W’Afeka immediately announces its colours. Whilst this label has the merit of defending a dance related to a traditional culture – that of the Mongo region of the DRC – it does not account for the overdose of exoticism this company has opted for.
The show, which claims to recreate the festive ambiance of the initiation rites, only offers an overdone and ostentatious demonstration of traditional dances and songs. Whether it be the snatches of a warrior’s investiture, or the dance of a hunter dressed in a snake skin, the show alas stops at the visual exoticism of the protagonists. As if the aim were to dazzle potential Western buyers. « We are really going to show you something! », might well sum up the tacit motto of the show. And they manage to do so, moreover: as they enter the stage, in a line, their bodies glistening with red oil, dressed in raffia skirts, and decked out in an impressive array of beads, the dancers stun the audience. The somewhat provocative beauty of these women and their traditional costumes, the communicative energy of the songs and dances, is, of course, indisputable. But, what exactly does this picturesque exoticism offer the spectator? By proposing mere echoes of the ceremonies, which have no dramatic thread, Maria Ekaba’s choreography presents the Mongo rites as a succession of stereotypes worthy of the colonial imagination.
One of the most criticized shows at the Masa 99, Walo W’Afeka at least had the merit of raising the crucial question of the representation of traditional African dances. Can we still just play on their visual exoticism, as the major national ballets did, at times with much talent? Doesn’t this continue to reduce them to a superficiality which deforms them? For, however folkloric a show might be, shouldn’t it operate a transposition which enables the spectator to appreciate not only the picturesque, but also, and above all, the spirit of a tradition? There are a whole range of question we cannot help but ask, given that this show was not simply entertainment for visiting Heads of State.

///Article N° : 5366


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