Coup Fatal (KVS & Les Ballets C De La B)
QPAC, The Playhouse
September 5 – 8
Internationally acclaimed Congolese music theatre work “Coup Fatal” is promoted as being like nothing ever seen on Australian stages. In its combination of traditional Congolese music with the diversity of pop, rock, jazz and Baroque, it is indeed an enigmatic experience of both celebratory joy and political commentary, beyond the protocols of any particular genre. Precise description difficulties aside, however, it is a show sure not to be forgotten, entirely deserving of the prolonged standing ovation with which it was bestowed.
The first hour flies by boisterously, barely pausing between musical beats as the group works through a series of tribal-like sequences from 12 incredible musicians from Kinshasa built around the astonishing vocals of the show’s co-creator, counter-tenor Serge Kakudji. And strangely, it works; the shifts between the two musical worlds are smooth yet logical. The serene, soaring Baroque sections are beautiful beyond words and the re-orchestration of the arias of Vivaldi, Handel and alike with electric guitar and African percussion are both interesting and entertaining.
Two principal dancers clown charismatically around the central Kakudji, all bump and grind of rolling hips, big smiles and over-the-top expressions, proving that words are often unnecessary in the communication of emotion or conveyance of story. Their energy is irreverent, infectious and never falters, despite the show’s demanding almost two-hour duration. When the performance moves from African instrumented music to a peacockishly flamboyant tribute to the Les Sapeurs, the political/fashion movement of extreme dandyism that has spread across Africa since its origins in Kinshasa in the 1920s, whereby the horrors of war and violence are blanked out by a penchant for lavish designer clothes and extravagant behaviour, they become even more vibrant and larger than life. But the sequence comes quite late in a long show that could have ended on high note many times over.
Just as it is difficult to disassociate the Congolese nation from its troubled history (since WWII, almost six million people have died as a result of wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo), the political undercurrent of the show is difficult to ignore. Most obviously, action takes place on a set hung with curtains of discarded gun cartridge ‘beads’. Lyrics too include references to the situation in the Congo. But political undercurrents aside, in the first instance, this is a concert unlike any other that serves to showcase a meeting of musical worlds and the experience of its challenging, cheeky Congolese fun is sure to leave audience members with both springs in their steps and smiles on their faces in response to its uplifting showcase of the spirit and resilience of the Congolese people in contrast to their country’s war-stricken experience.
“Coup Fatal” is a daring and inspirational work, befitting of the festival’s ‘Mind Blown’ mantra. The coup of securing a new production (its world premiere was in Austria just last year) of such high international calibre to make its Australian premiere in its exclusive appearance as part of Brisbane Festival’s Congo Connections is testament to the distinction of its curation and promotion of Brisbane as being more new world city than bit country town.