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AUDIENCE REVIEW: When Birds Refused to Fly

Olivier Tarpaga

Performance Date:

Freeform Review:

To witness the magic of these four bodies performing live is a privilege that cannot be transmitted by any means. Olivier Tarpaga skillfully celebrates each performers individuality, creating a wide spectrum of story within each body and as a whole. The male performers demonstrate the dimensionality of masculinity through intense physicality and delicate vulnerability. While Salamata Kobré is the sole female among three men, her presence portrays vast province throughout the work. The performers create community with a variety of interactions from loving support to harsh violence expressing how oppression plays out within themselves and in relationship to one another.

The first performer to enter is Salamata Kobré, a strong female presence with long, braided hair and patterned dress. She performs a short, gestural solo giving us a glimpse of her powerful being. She moves upstage and our eye is drawn to a new performer entering, Jean Robert Kiki Koudogbo, followed by Abdoul Aziz Zoundi, and finally Stéphane Michael Nana. Each performs a short, gestural solo before making their way upstage right to witness the next performers intro. Soon all four begin travelling together with a bold, marching stride to kick off explosive and intensely physical unison movement. The music by Super Volta holds a fierce rhythmic groove that makes sitting still extremely difficult.

The stage space is defined and redefined by bottle crates and wooden blocks that the performers move throughout the piece. The first shift of space is initiated by the performers arranging a few bottle crates in a loose circle downstage right. Before we know it, we are in a community dance scene where each performers individuality is highlighted and celebrated. Salamata Kobré’s movement is swift and powerful with moments of sensuality. Stéphane Michael Nana commands attention with small, quick movements, rhythmic nuance and intense precision. Jean Robert Kiki Koudogbo fulfills his expansive and profound kinesphere with gentile ease. Abdoul Aziz Zoundi moves with clear, dynamic control and effortless transition. And together they celebrate themselves and each other by grooving, smiling, and witnessing their individual and collective magic.

The impact the set and props have on defining the space is impressive. The design and choreography of objects transforms the space from a community dance scene to a boxing ring to more abstract spaces with levels.

Costuming by Sayouba Ouédraogo also contributes to the complexity of individuality developed in the work. Like the set and prop changes, most clothing transitions are visible and the performers dress and undress each other in a non-sexual way. It’s more like that of siblings or a parent trying to undress a child – messy and imperfect. The male performers go from wearing shirts and pants to wearing no shirts and even no pants during one wrenching solo by Koudogbo. His pants are pulled off in a comfortable awkwardness by Nana to reveal Koudogbo’s black knee pads, and black biker shorts. On top he wears a white under shirt and an open, white button-down. Koudogbo holds up a pair of scissors with which he commences to pretend to cut parts of himself and actually cuts parts of the shirt. This section evokes images of lynching and suicide. Together with the sound of the shirt ripping, the solo is rivetingly disturbing.

Projected on two white back drops is a slideshow of old, black and white family photos that add to the community feeling at the beginning of the piece. Later, while the performers place wooden blocks in layers of circles around the stage, a compelling video with performer, Tô Finley, is the focus of our attention. He sings a song with tenderness in his voice and eyes. The lighting gently guides our focus as if the video and stage could have a cross-fade. We shift from the images of this beautiful old man to the transformed stage space. The blocks have been placed upright in three concentric circles. We soon associate the space with a boxing ring as Stéphane Michael Nana performs punches, jabs, and quick footwork to the sounds of Muhammad Ali Commentators. He travels in a circle around the blocks, impressively navigating without hitting them and then purposely knocking some down at times. Nana goes from being shirtless to wearing a neon orange hooded vest that almost looks like something a construction worker would wear, except for the hood. That the vest is bestowed upon him by Koudogbo feels like an important conclusion to Nana’s boxing solo and transition into a different kind of violence. As Nana continues breathtakingly impressive and refined movement, Koudogbo uses a longer block to knock down the rings of wooden blocks making his way from the outer layer to the inner layer. The sound of the blocks crashing to the floor and into each other is startling in conjunction with Nana’s mighty flow.

The space makes two more significant alterations throughout the evening. As the blocks are slowly and steadily stacked to form a wall in the upstage left corner, male duets resonate through the remainder of the stage. The way Zoundi and Koudogbo move in and out of the floor and each other portrays a deep narrative of hurt and care with nuanced vulnerability. At this stage of the work, Abdoul Aziz Zoundi’s majestic bare torso glistens under the lighting design of Cyril Givort. His sequential spinal movements are beautifully expressive.

The conclusion of the piece holds lasting images framed by the set, props, lighting, staging, and music. Salamata Kobré balances multiple wooden blocks on her head while being carried across the back of the stage by Jean Robert Kiki Koudogbo. Abdoul Aziz Zoundi faces stage right in a parallel plie, arms down by his side, with the weight of his head falling back as he looks upward. Warm light shines down on his understated surrender or defeat. Downstage right, Stéphane Michael Nana stands with his bare back to us, spotlight shining down on him as he slowly raises his fist and bows his head. A collective sigh fills the audience as the lights and music fade.

Salamata Kobré, Jean Robert Kiki Koudogbo, Stéphane Michael Nana, Abdoul Aziz Zoundi, and Olivier Tarpaga bow to a standing ovation.


Indah Walsh

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