To open, the audience is invited to stand for the Haitian National Anthem. It’s a patriotic hymn that blatantly calls out white influence and its destruction. This immediately brings Australia into the spotlight, demonstrating how, comparably, this country has a great deal to learn about itself, and could afford to follow suit with honesty about our history.
The Space Theatre is dressed like a shrine. Teal drapes hang at various levels as a backdrop, creating texture behind the performers on stage; candles are scattered high and low on every surface, and there is an altar in the centre. This design, by Maitê Inaê, is fitting, as M’ap Boulé is a spiritual experience of sorts: one of finding yourself, understanding your roots, and the power and freedom that comes with that.
Multidisciplinary artist Nancy Denis is the writer, creator and performer of this show. Under the direction of Anthea Williams, every creative choice oozes with heart and soul, and enhances the already poignant and remarkably comical writing.
Carrying a performance such as this – one with both heaviness and comedy – takes a certain kind of performer. Denis is vulnerable, charming and witty in this complex feat of storytelling. Her interactions with the audience are enhanced by her uninhibited sense of joy and self-assurance. Coupled with her openness and truth telling, she establishes an intimacy with everyone in the room that allows us to sink into her journey. She is a remarkable host.
The lighting design, by Karen Norris, is as dynamic as Denis. In parts it’s dramatic, and in others gentle, moving with the performer on her journey.
The original music, composed by the late Carl St Jacques, whom Denis acknowledges at the opening of the show, is a spectacular vehicle for storytelling, and is deeply personal. Denis’s voice is commanding and holds immense emotion. The music works alongside spoken word, rap and even tap dancing throughout M’ap Boulé, and the contrast between these features brings colour and pace to the piece that sees the hour and a half run time fly by.
Hip-hop artist Kween G Kibone accompanies Denis on stage as the MC of the production. The pair have a compelling and playful chemistry, but Kibone also contributes to the storytelling through rap and song. She is a powerful force on stage.
Musical director Victoria Falconer plays everything from violin to piano throughout the production, and her accompaniment helps establish mood and tone. The work of Mick Stuart on the drums and polymba fills the space and exemplifies the power of live music on stage.
M’ap Boulé is a crucial piece of theatre. While this is a deeply personal story for Denis, it interrogates wider themes or identity, ancestry and race, and addresses themes of genocide, colonisation, stolen generations and imperialism – all ideas that are hovering in public discourse at the moment. Seamlessly woven in between this subject matter are iconic Australian touchstones: Supré dresses and Rubi Shoes.
Denis demonstrates the importance of knowing where we come from, the people who brought us here, and the history of the land we stand on. Her unapologetic blackness, queerness and self-acceptance is empowering, infectious and joyful, leaving audiences assured that we will be found and healed.
M’ap Boulé is at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Space Theatre again on June 22 as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which continues until June 24. See more stories and reviews on InReview’s Cabaret Festival page.
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