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8/16/10

The Bantu ~ Mystic Family Circus

a review of a show I was in way back at the turn of the century... crucial moment in time for me.. always good to reflect on these things:



e . T r a v e l l i n g . Ex p l o s i o n ….
(a review of the March 17, 2001 Mystic Family Circus event)

by Cinnamon Twist


I remember coming out of Black Rock city in 98. I had a vision of a traveling dance circus.

I remember thinking, the model of the circus: possibly an ideal interface between what "we" do and the rest of society. Normals are used to the circus, they accept the freaks, the mad spectacle, the sideshows. They even like it. They pay money for it. It affects them on some level. And once in a while, their kids . . . run away with the circus. ..

Well, here we are a few years later and the circus does seem to be taking form. Down here in LA we've got the Dream Theater and Cirquanalia. In San Francisco, the Bantu Mystic Family Circus. A tight knit network of dancers, artists and performers no doubt cooked in the Black Rock City stew, working hard for months on a travelling dance ritual theater
circus-like experience. . . next stop, Israel, supposedly.

Early email missives from the Bantus gave off a definite vibe. These people seemed pretty serious, pretty organized, with what I'd call the "right" mindset.

So it was with some anticipation I waited to see just how much of their ambitious vision they could pull off down here.
Packing it all together in one night, the yoga, the tai chi, the ritual theater performance, bands, djs, sideshows, food, spoken word, activists, . . .the veritable kit & kaboodle of 21c evolutionary culture.

Well, the night came round at last. My summary tag line: "one of the best parties that almost didn't happen."

The yoga & tai chi sessions were appropriately surreal--a hundred or so party people, many in fantabulously odd get-ups,
stretching, moving and chanting. Nice. Things moved on, the sideshows started outside, people started to stream in. The little girl in the red butterfly outfit gave away all her little red crop circle postcards. The costumes were the highlight.
The Bantus evidently brought with them a sizable contingent of Bay Area freakazoids. But honestly, aside from the costuming, something was missing, the vibe was still a bit tepid.

Then three or four participants dressed up like firemarshals and cops strolled back and forth through the space, trying to
look as business-like as they could. Coincidentally enough, the party was shut down. They made everyone leave the space. Too many people, no fire permit. Standard party bust story. Good actors.

Then the party REALLY started.

600 or 700 bonafide freaks in full alien-mutant-cosmic-khaotic-tribal-psychedelic regalia-facepaint-tattoo-piercings-feathers (feathers were THE fashion tip of the night, btw) creatively loitering for hours in the street entertaining themselves and the cops, fully lit up by the helicopter circling overhead. Video cameras everywhere, documenting documenting documenting.

People doing somersaults, on stilts, guy with owl wings pursuing the cop car, flags and twirlers, jesters, nonsense
pronouncements on a bullhorn from inside the silver bus, the green little man with the long nose & magic
wand getting people to breathe their best wishes for a new universe into the wand, fits and starts at creating a street parade. Bangin' drum circles. Trumpets trumpeting. Flute and sage wafting. Strumming on the guitar, singing, "taking it to the streets..." Crowd oozing around in rhizomatic amoeboid dynamics, unwilling to disperse. Blazingly hot mutant
chicks in Silk Route belly dance outfits cavorting in front of macho cops trying not to be distracted.

Hundreds of people refusing to clear the street for the cop cars to passthrough until finally begged into obedience by Bantu
organizers.

Highlight: the "owl chorus" lines up in formation and sings its sacred hymn. Soaring feminine harmonies, middle of the night, downtown LA industrial district, to an audience of a few dozen LAPD, plus the rest of us. Now that's rad.

Somebody says, "this isn't a circus, this is a travelling explosion."

And while most people are whining about the party being shut down, I'm arguing this is better. Just think of the unbelievable footage, if nothing else! It was supposed to be a "documentary performance", right?

You could never orchestrate something this magical if you tried. This is the real shit. Creative resistance, non-violent civil
disobedience,respectfully disrespectful play in the face of authority. If the Bantus are really serious about social change through their creativity, then this is a real beginning. Not "just another party."

And after an hour or two of irrepressible vibe on the part of the partiers, all the cops can't help but grin and crack up at the
antics. What have they gotten themselves into?

So the street scene gradually winds down as alternative party plans develop. People begin to move off in different
directions, the crew go back in the warehouse to break down. Organizers call "Circle," three concentric circles to be precise. Blue bellydancer acts as facilitator, cops looking on quizzically. Guess they've never been witness to
consensus decision-making process by mutant circuseers. A first for everything.

It appears there's no bargaining with the cops. The show must NOT go on. Break down all the stuff. Get it out of there. People are bummed, a huge preparation went into this, but as Carmenchuchu points out, this is the challenge, to accept that it really is "about the process and not the product."

At some point, the cops have all disappeared. The word goes out--"the show WILL go on! Even without the main sound system!"

A hundred people stream back in from the Gigsville party nearby. The overhead lights go off. The black lights go on. The
Xmas light star mobile shines again in the corner. Lorin turns on the DJ monitors, pops the first CD in, and the party is, VOILA, back to life.

Eventually the performance does start, pared down because parts of the cast have gotten lost in the night. As it goes on, I'm trying to think about how to describe it. The story line is not at all clear. (I'm later informed it's all about menstruation--huh?) There's great gesture, interaction, dialogue, concentrated physical energy. Groovy outfits. Cute girls. A
Giant book. The hero of the story (its a "Hero's Journey" of course), cute mulatto kid with a lot of fancy capoeira moves and full mid-air somersaults. He doesn't say anything. Communicates with gesture—everybody else talks and sings at him. Hmmm. Encounter with the spirit of the jungle. Temptations of city life. The owl of death, the owl choir. The tree of knowledge. The seven sisters. A bunch of stuff about seeds, planting seeds, at the end. Not quite an ending. Performers spread out into the crowd,... planting seeds?

At moments I have a taste of what the Living Theater must have been like in the 60s. The raw energy and vibe of it is what is most compelling, and that doesn't translate well into print. So I won't bother you with a detailed review. Just to say that, like a good trip, it doesn't all make sense, there's a lot going on, multiple layers and levels, and what you make of it depends a lot on what you choose to focus on. The bottom line is, it moves, it looks good, it sounds good, it feels good. (It's pretty funny too, at points.)


What it all makes me think of is the little known fact that theater originally evolved out of the Dionysian cult of
ancient Greece. As in, wild orgiastic dance parties under the full moon, probably aided by psychedelic-laced wine. And the question I have always had on that count: what was the intermediary form, WHY did the ecstatic trance dancing turn itself into acted-out stories? We know nothing of this transitional form, this missing link, pre-5th century BC Greece. What is
it about this kind of experience that it wants to format itself into images, metaphors, characters, narrative? Is it the need to re-tell the shamanic voyage to others, to oneself, to conceptualize, digest, mythologize? After all, we are by nature culture-makers, are we not?

And we're going through the same process again, 2500 years plus down the road. Ritual dance theater, to re-embody for ourselves the story of what it is we are doing and where we are going, in the middle of the parties. A way to focus, refine, define non-verbally. Because most of us know, somewhere, it's not just about the dance. It's about shaking and baking a new human culture through the dance. Because the language of dance is our deepest and oldest root language. And because the problems of the old culture won't be solved by old culture band-aids.

And because it's about time.

And about . . .

. . . planting seeds.