Samson by Brett Bailey and Third World Bunfight will be at the National Arts Festival from 27 to 29 June 2019. Written and directed by Bailey, Samson is a sensuous, poetic and thought-provoking music-theatre piece based on the Old Testament story. The production picked up two awards at Woordfees earlier this year – for Best Music Theatre Production and for Best Music and Musical Direction.
The show is set to a haunting live score composed and directed by one of South Africa’s foremost jazz and electronic musicians, Shane Cooper. It features opera, choral vocals, tight ensemble work and sweeping video scenography.
Bailey has figured Samson, the character, as an avatar for the repressed rage of those people that have been trampled by expansionist forces for centuries. In an era of intolerance and polarisation, a young man with a hero mission channels the fury of his subjugated people, and inflicts terror on the population that he holds accountable for their oppression. As the body count mounts, Delilah – an ambivalent enemy agent – seduces and ritually castrates him. His brutal punishment in the detention facilities of the authorities spurs him to an act of suicidal devastation …
Dystopian contemporary landscape
Samson uproots the popular biblical myth from its religious context, and transplants it into a dystopian contemporary landscape of unbridled capitalism, human displacement, xenophobia and violence. It asks us to reflect on the historical injustices and repressed rage that so often underlie the ruthless acts of terror committed by marginalised, alienated men.
The cast is headed up by dancer-choreographer Elvis Sibeko in the title role. Also on stage are opera singer Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi, actor Wiseman Sithole, and the performers Apollo Ntshoko, Monde Abey Xakwe and Zanele Mbizo, who have appeared in several of Bailey’s works over the years. Along with Shane Cooper, the onstage musical ensemble comprises Mikhaela Kruger, Jonno Sweetman and Mapumba Cilombo.
South African dance icon, Vincent Mantsoe, has been credited in the National Arts Festival programme as the choreographer of Samson. He did indeed choreograph the first iteration of the work at the Woordfees. However, the performer who played Samson in that production has been replaced by Elvis Sibeko, and since Vincent was not available to attend rehearsals for the current production, and since Sibeko is himself a choreographer, he has worked with Bailey to shape the role from scratch.
Bailey was recently awarded France’s prestigious Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (Knight in the Order of Arts and Letters). His idiosyncratic, iconoclastic works, performed around the world, focus a probing lens on the times we live in; in particular the post-colonial landscape of Africa and the historical and contemporary relations between Africa and the West.
Where and when: Rhodes Theatre, Makhanda on Thursday 27 June at 4pm, Friday 28 June at 12pm and on Saturday 29 June at 12pm and 6pm