30 October 2006

blessing the boats

MIAF 2006
blessing the boats
Melbourne International Arts Festival

20 October 2006
the Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio

Review by Christina Cass

blessing the boats, written and performed by Sekou Sundiata, is one man’s personal mythology into and out of the depths of a prolonged near-death experience – of five years. The profound imagery Sundiata portrays through his gorgeous baritone spoken word transports the listener to another continent – Harlem, USA – to be exact, where Sundiata discovers he has renal disease.

By 1997 the undiagnosed warning signs of hypertension, chronic fatigue and flu-like symptoms are merely chalked up to his busy lifestyle: writing and performing his poetry and music. Not until he passes out in an elevator where he remains unnoticed for “two minutes or twenty minutes?” does his medical nightmare of kidney failure begin.

This story of “unearned grace,” as Sundiata describes it, is one with earth angels who come from unexpected places to aid a man who clearly doubted his own life was worthwhile. After years of dialysis and 18 months on the kidney transplant waiting list, there are five friends who stepped up to the offering plate – four of them were perfect matches; there is a woman with the cell phone who literally saved his neck after a car accident; and the list goes on. By the end of the performance, we are inclined to take pause and appreciate the everyday blessing that we ourselves are graced with.

Sundiata uses video imagery, music and multiple impersonations of his no-bullshit subconscious, medical “practicing” doctors and death stalking his hospital bed to take us to the ultimate celebration – life. He moves slowly and with purpose, around the stage into and out of lights, but perhaps therein lies my only complaint. I wish there was more energy in the overall performance. It may be due to a bit of ennui performing blessing the boats for several years now around the world, or most likely jet lag kicking in and kicking butt, but Sundiata’s normally commanding and rich voice didn’t carry nor did the celebratory nature of his story resonate through his body.

It would be a shame to say this coloured my experience of the profound poetry that is uniquely Sekou Sundiata, but it did. I can only hope that he is more well-rested for his second highly anticipated show of the festival, the 51st (dream) state.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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