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Bokan, the Bad Hearted

Presented by and at La MaMa E.T.C., 74A East Fourth St., NYC, Dec. 3-19.

In its brief appearance at La MaMa, Loco 7's "Bokan, the Bad Hearted" made a highly dramatic visual impact. This puppet dance drama has been inspired by the Amazonian legend of Yurupari 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—consisting more of sounds than of melody—that 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 the 2000-year-old stories of Yurupari, focusing on a matriarchal society that 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, a towering goddess puppet, 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 complete 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.

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