Coup coup

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.

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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.

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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.

Brisfest brightenment and enlightenment

It was difficult not to think pink in the vicinity of the CBD’s George Street when a massive marquee took over Queen’s Park as host to celebration of 2015’s Brisbane Festival launch. With Principal Partner, Treasury Casino and Hotel also lit up for the occasion, the excitement was mind-blowing (to take the festival’s tagline.)

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Although the festival is Australia’s youngest international arts festival, its growth in audience attendance and program size since it was made an annual event in 2009, affirms its role in connecting artists and audiences through attracting world class entertainment. And in his inaugural year as festival director, David Berthold is certainly bringing the world to Brisbane from September 5 – 26, first and foremost through the drawing together of four shows umbrella-ed as ‘Congo Connections, showcasing the power, politics and personality of the unique African nation. These include “Coup Fatal”, which will see Congolese Countertenor Serge Kakudji joining 12 musicians to refashion some of the greats of baroque music with pop, rock and jazz, and also “Macbeth”, a thrilling showcase of Verdi’s operatic version set in the Congo.

MACBETH

The provocative programming continues with “Flexn”, a piece created by Brooklyn hip-hop pioneers of the relatively new dance from flex, which opened only months ago in New York City. Infused as it is with the unrest following the extreme circumstances in the US in aftermath of police shootings of unarmed black suspects, the piece is sure to stir as well as reflect deep resonance with our own national narrative. And to have it playing almost alongside “Beautiful One Day” is quite the coup, for this acclaimed theatrical documentary promises to be a gripping look at the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee in police custody on Palm Island and the subsequent aftermath uprisings, even more so by its inclusion of Palm Island residents (including Doomadgee’s niece).

HONEY

Then there is also “Hot Brown Honey”, a cabaret of less drama but just as much political passion, returning in an explosion of colour, culture and controversy to the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts to serve up some comedy, circus, striptease, song, dance and poetry while smashing a few stereotypes along the way.

There is similar promise of stereotype shattering in W!ld Rice’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”, as part of the festival’s Singapore Series to mark the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence. The gender-bending play, which features an all-male cast (no drag) has been a huge hit in Singapore, despite homosexuality being illegal there, and promises the joy of Wilde’s wit, with a twist.

Brisbane Festival is Brisbane’s biggest party, vibrant, lively and unique. And September 2015 promises to build upon this with events for cabaret connoisseurs, circus lovers and a music enthusiasts featuring alongside its thought-provoking and politically charged works, to ‘brighten and enlightened the world with mix of the merry and the meaty’, Berthold described it, for amongst the big subjects and serious conversations, there is also promise of some sure fun.

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The creators of “La Soiree” are returning to the Spiegeltent with “Club Swizzle”, which promises to be just as debaucherously sassy as its circus cabaret forerunner. “Thum Prints” sees beatboxing virtuous Tom Thum matching forces with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and “Symphony For Me” sees the QSO putting on a free concert based on the submitted favourite classical pieces of some of its audience members. The music program also includes an environmentally focused muliti-media collaboration between former Powderfinger frontman Bernard Fanning, four-time Aria Award winner Katie Noonan and renowned Western Australian author Tim Winton, along with around-the-world solo sailor Jessica Watson, as part of the 50th anniversary of the Australian Marine Conservation Society and also “A State of Grace” tribute to the music of Tim and Jeff Buckley, featuring a swag of acclaimed musical performers.

Brisbane audiences are sure to be tickled pink with the program, which features hundreds of artists from five continents, including a number of free events (because arts should be accessible to everyone). Although there are many ways to enjoy a festival, exhilaration comes from the connection and accumulation of its program’s parts, and in 2015, this promises to be truer than ever. With so much theatre, music, dance, circus, film and lots more, there are countless opportunities to brighten and enlighten. Tickets are on sale from June 30, so grab a program and start planning how you are going to paint the town pink this September.

PROGRAMS