I am not sure I can ever recall feeling such an urgent and bone-deep calling to tell a story, or a desire to delve deeply into myself in order to craft a new work in dance, music and theater. Of course, like any other artist, I have experienced both sudden shudders and slow simmers of inspiration, but my latest work, and first venture into the realm of solo performance, falls outside of the aforementioned experiences. This new creation, Kimpa Vita! A Solo ChoreOpera, is above all else, a testament to my obedience to spirit.
This work began as a whisper that over the span of two years grew into a cacophony of words, messages and sounds that could no longer be overlooked, ignored or put off for an unknown time in the future. I am sure that of my own volition, I would not have chosen to create and perform a solo ‘choreOpera’ that leaves me artistically naked on a stage, stripped of the collectivism that has always incited and helped shape my inspiration. But here I am knee deep in a work that must be brought to fruition, singing, dancing and telling a story that must be told.
I first learned of Mama Kimpa Vita as a child when my father would tell of important figures in Kongolese history. The story of this fearless woman was mystifying to me, and made me feel courageous and proud to be a descendant of such a powerful Kongo lineage. As I grew older, I learned of her great sacrifice, her conviction, comparisons to the likes of Joan of Arc, and of the conflicts that colored her existence, such as western religion and traditional African beliefs, being a divine messenger and a woman. The more I learned, the more I was drawn to her, and the more I found small traces of myself in her story. I knew one day I would come to know her more deeply, and it seems that day has come.
Though my research, reading and writing began some time ago, today marks the true start of my journey. I arrived in the Congo just days ago, and am currently in the backseat of a car on the long road to the village of Kiazi, where my paternal grandparents and their grandparents before them originate. There, I will ask for permission to begin this work and will begin 4 glorious weeks of exchange with other artists, I will dance and sing. I will attend traditional religious services. I will conduct interviews and hear accounts and perceptions of this larger than life figure in Kongo history.
It’s only been a couple of days since my arrival, and I have already been greatly enriched by my return to the source. I have received a sweet and spirited thrust of inspiration that will surely be seen in my upcoming work, Kimpa Vita! A Solo ChoreOpera.