d’bi young anitafrika takes Toronto by storm with her new show Lukumi: A Dub Opera
As an admirer of d’bi young anitafrika‘s solo work for some time, I was excited to arrive at Tarragon Extraspace for Lukumi: A Dub Opera and see a simmering, kinetic scene already underway, scored live by a small ensemble and featuring young (as Lukumi) engaged in a dance conversation with Daniel Ellis, who plays as a variety of characters. It set the tone for an extraordinary evening at the theatre.
Lukumi A Dub Opera, described as taking place 100 years after the widespread meltdown of nuclear power plants, takes place within Afro-pessimism. All the beings (people, animals, gods and guides) we meet live outside of mainstream society, in a time when nuclear waste is literally killing them and their spirit of possibility. Out of this Afro-pessimism, and profoundly in resistance to its exclusion, death, and violence, comes Afro-futurism. We are lead there through the many layers and levels of the difficult journey Lukumi takes and offered a glimmer of possibility that sustained dedication to change might not be fruitless (literally or figuratively; the play deals significantly with issues of lost fertility) after all.
The cast of Lukumi all do double and triple duty, except for anitafrika, and most of them embody one person, one animal, and one orisha. They also sing, dance, chant and speak lines, and to a one they are outstanding – grounded, fluid, unhesitating, flowing in and out of being individual guides/teachers and operating as a chorus/conscience in a group.
Even among this very high caliber of actors, however, there are a few standouts. Sedina Fiati commands an entire language in just the angle and position of her head, and her expressiveness adds texture to every movement of the show. Daniel Ellis, who has the funniest lines, is as light of foot and bright of spirit as Anancy himself must be. Kudos also to Julene Robinson, who found layers and levels in her portrayal of Lion that I could never have imagined.
There’s more to praise in Lukumi: the onstage musical ensemble, led by composer and musical director Waleed Abdulhamid gave the show breath and a heartbeat, and filmmaker Lucius Dechausey cut together a beautiful disjunct narrative of resistance and debilitation, from Black Lives Matter to post-event devastation.
If I had a critique of the show at all, it might be that there was almost too much to properly take in – I wanted time to focus more completely on the dance movements of the Ahori, choreographed by L’Antoinette Stines, PhD (what is that hand shape? ) and the polyrhythms of the music and the exact words the cast said, especially the repeated ones. But overall, beyond doubt, the piece succeeds brilliantly, and does not require the audience to understand every small detail in order to enter fully into the work (I’m just a bit of a nerd, is all).
Through it all, the assured artistic leadership (and tremendous performance) of d’bi young anitafrika is obvious. The imagination, the narrative thread, the journey and the arrival are conceived and connected beautifully in Lukumi A Dub Opera. Do your homework, as one properly should before an opera, and go.
- Lukumi A Dub Opera plays at Tarragon Theatre Extraspace, 30 Bridgeman Street in Toronto, until 14 October
- Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm, with matinees Wednesday at 1:30 and Saturday at 2:30.
- Tickets are $32, with an arts worker/student price of $27 and Pay What You Can on Wednesdays at the matinee.
- Tickets may be had online or by calling the Tarragon Theatre box office at (416) 531-1827.
photo of Aisha Bentham, Savannah Clarke, Daniel Ellis, Sedina Fiati, Uche Ama, Najla Nubyanluv, Sashoya Shoya Oya, Julene Robinson and d’bi.young anitafrika by Dee Kofri