New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - South American

"Bokan, The Bad Hearted"
La MaMa Annex Theater, Manhattan

In its brief appearance at La MaMa, "Bokan" makes a highly dramatic visual impact. This puppet dance drama has been inspired by the Amazonian Legend of the Yurupari tribes and features the work of a Colombian Renaissance man, one Federico Restrepo (who conceived, designed, choreographed and directed the piece). And composer Elizabeth Swados, getting right into the spirit, adds a musical score, more sound than melody, which heightens the experience. Both sights and sounds create the sense of a rain forest, where hypnotic rituals of an ancient people are enacted.

"Bokan" digs back into 2000-year-old stories of the Yurupari, focusing on the time when their matriarchal society was challenged and ultimately destroyed, replaced with a patriarchal society. Men and women, mortals and gods, vie for domination, as the struggle moves back and forth between competing forces.

This is so much an ensemble piece that no one performer can be singled out, (though Restrepo himself gives a powerful performance as Izi, the village leader who is later renamed Bokan). Moving trees and a towering goddess puppet and the face of the god on a painted backdrop and human dancers all conspire to create an awesome, anthropomorphic world. Bodies, some blue, some orange, strike a jarring note.

It is a relentless 90-minute piece of dance, music, costumes, and puppetry that leaves the audience-and probably the cast-totally spent. The total effect is strange, offbeat, yet oddly familiar (tapping into our collective racial and religious memories) in its tale of birth, death and the struggle for domination.

-- Irene Backalenick
Dec. 16, 2004

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