Review: Faustin Linyekula’s Twin Peaks of Mourning and Joy

About halfway through Faustin Linyekula’s “In Search of Dinozord” on Saturday, amid fragments of Mozart’s “Requiem” and organ music by Arvo Pärt, a lighter melody drifted through the theater: the refrain of an incoming Skype call.

Joining the performance on screen, live from Sweden, was Antoine Vumilia Muhindo, a Congolese actor, writer, stage director and former political prisoner. A passport issue, we learned, had kept him from being at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at New York University in person.

“I’m very happy to be free,” he said, before recalling his involvement in the rebel movement that ousted Mobutu Sese Seko, his country’s leader of 32 years, in 1997. “But to me one price of freedom is exile, and this is just one aspect of being in exile.”

His presence distilled the larger sense of displacement, of splintered communities and obscured histories, that runs through Mr. Linyekula’s haunting and haunted work, which was receiving its United States premiere as part of the French Institute Alliance Française’s Crossing the Line Festival. Mr. Linyekula — who grew up in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo and whose dance-theater company, Studios Kabako, is based there — was also in town to create “Festival of Dreams,” a work featuring New York City hip-hop dancers that took over Roberto Clemente Plaza in the South Bronx on Saturday afternoon. Seen back to back, they formed a dyad of mourning and joy.

“Dinozord” summons past friendships and political struggles, reckoning with what it means to seek beauty, to write or sing or dance, when surrounded by violence and loss. Mr. Linyekula was joined by the dancers Jeannot Kumbonyeki, Papy Ebotani and Yves Mwamba; the countertenor Serge Kakudji; and the actor Papy Maurice Mbwiti.

Between passages of precarious movement — a skittering dance for Mr. Ebotani that ends with him collapsing to the floor; a duet in which one man arranges another’s unresponsive limbs; an electrifying solo for Mr. Kumbonyeki to Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” — the cast shepherds a red chest filled with tattered papers across the stage, carrying it like a coffin or letting its contents spill onto the floor. Those notes are said to belong to Mr. Linyekula’s friend Kabako, a writer with lofty literary dreams who died of plague, “a disease I thought only existed in books,” Mr. Linyekula says.

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