Linyekula is a remarkably versatile theatre artist, crossing disciplines and cultural boundaries with ease to create performances as scintillating as they are profound. While it pulsates with movement and engages with original images, he makes no bones about the political thrust of his work and the post-colonial attitudes that give it shape.
Born in the former Belgian Congo in 1974 when the West's puppet dictator Mubuto had consolidated his regime and renamed it Zaire, Linyekula grew up in a country betrayed by the international community. Just at the moment when multi-party elections seemed to be offering a road to democracy, the country became engulfed in a devastating civil war.
Linyekula cites his childhood experiences and his multilingual, multicultural background as the source of his attitude to his work. He learned to question everything, and, throughout the last decade, he has developed a style that passes those questions on. We might leave the auditorium after a Linyekula performance galvanised by the sheer poetry of it all, but weeks later an image or a line of text can tap you on the shoulder and require attention.
Through music, movement and poetry, Linyekula gives a voice to the many individuals who have been trapped in history's onward march. He presented two works in Brussels last year: In More, More, More...Future, he put a contemporary Ndombolo band together with dance and lyrical texts that spoke volumes about the triumph of the human spirit in the face of disease, terror and famine.
Dialogue Series iii: Dinozord was a more sober affair, bringing together actors, dancers and the Congolese counter-tenor Serge Kakudji with video and poetic texts by Richard Kabako (who died of plague during the insurgencies) and Antoine Vumilia Muhindo (a political prisoner). It was an expression of grief at lost potential, the struggle for survival and comprehension, leaving one with a huge, multifaceted question. Why?
Linyekula started training in theatre at the French Cultural Centre in Kinshasa before continuing his studies in theatre and literature in Kisangani. When the universities were closed down by the regime, he moved on to the University of Nairobi. He founded Kenya's first contemporary dance company and, after residencies in Europe, he returned to Kisangani in 2001 to create Kabako, a centre for multidisciplinary education and creation in the performing arts.
Since then his work has been performed at prestigious festivals: Tanzwochen in Vienna, Avignon, Dance Umbrella in London, the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels. Pour en finir avec Bérénice, based on Racine's classic, was commissioned by the 2010 Avignon Festival and created in the Studio Theatre of the Comédie-Française, bringing together actors from that most illustrious of theatre institutions with Linyekula's own collaborators in the DRC. Linyekula is both the piece's director and one of its actors.
Praised by the press for its treatment of a universal theme in a contemporary context, Bérénice is a new departure for one of the most exciting young practitioners on the international stage.