May 11, 2014
Sliding, colliding, and gently gliding through the terrain. Structured off of and onto the area that is the “stage.” Alain Buffard’s “Baron Samedi,” opened the festival of “Danse: A French-American Festival of Performance and Ideas” at the New York Live Arts. In the final evening of the three-day run, the theatre became completely black, as a slow, distant light rose on the face of Hlengiwe Lushaba. Cooing a French song, her powerful voice sets the somber, detached tone of the work.
A white floor takes over the space of the stage. Its edges careen up and down, creating tails to the ends of the wave like floor. The eight performers, versed in movement, acting, and music, slide up and travel down the hill that separates the lower and upper half of the stage. Two stay off to the side, striking the chords of an electric cello and sound mixer. Their tunes fade in and out, piercing the hardwired atmosphere that occupies the central space.
“Baron Samedi” refers to one of the spirits or gods recognized in Haitian voodoo. Commonly seen as a black man in a top hat that represents death and sex, the figure comes to life on stage through the performance of David Thomson. A ring master of sorts, he becomes all things evil. He simulates anal rape at the back of the stage on his “slave,” the dynamic Will Rawls. Rawls stands tall and astute, mumbling fading words as he walks around in search of redeeming dignity. Later in a court scene Thomson is dubbed the “juge” French for judge and wears a chalkboard title around his neck as the others wear signs of prostitute and witness.
The strength of Buffard’s work is in the seamless mixture of singing, movement, and music. A sequence of jutting in and out of each other’s bodies, turns into a chorus like French hymn. But perhaps, it’s also overwhelming. The layering is at times cryptic and the subtleties too unclear. A culmination of tensions (racial, sexual, physical, and economic) melds but never results in a focused objective. It’s not enough to mention the problem and be overt in its presentation.
Samedi also represents resurrection and healing despite his tendency for destruction. This side of Samedi is valid too, without it, we are left with another complete blackout, and more than ever a sense of bleakness.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Bailey Moon