By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 1.13.2017)
Martin Kigundo took on a nearly daunting task when he agreed to pick up on Joan Sikand’s proposal to try staging poetry from her three published poetry books.
But as Martin has worked with some of Kenya’s finest directors in the past and learned a great deal in the process -- thespians like Millicent Ogutu, Gilbert Lukalia and Keith Pearson, the founder of the Prevail Arts Company chose to go for it, but to get a little help from his friends.
Joan apparently hadn’t given him much guidance on what she wanted the production to convey thematically since it’s only the title ‘Peace and Love’ that offers a hint about what the show is about.
This must have given Martin even more of a challenge since her poetry (totaling around 300 poems) spans a broad range of topics, from death and unrelenting despair to joy, love and faith
The range of ideas that she explores is no problem; it’s the bridge between these extremes that wasn’t easy to find, feel and follow in Martin’s musical production of ‘Peace and Love’, which Prevail produced and staged last weekend at The Tribe Hotel.
But a bridge and an overarching theme are what I feel was absolutely essential for us to fully appreciate Kigondu’s ambitious production and Mrs Sikand’s evocative poetry
Perhaps the director didn’t select the right poems or the poet herself didn’t write poetry that could have provided more autobiographical information. Such data could have helped us understand more about where the poetry was coming from.
It would have been useful, for instance to be told, either in the program (or ‘theatre bill’) or in a specially prepared prelude so as to clarify that the production was autobiographical.
Possibly, the poet didn’t want us to be clear that the verses were by and about a brilliant young woman whose parents were fresh from North Korea when they arrived in the States; that she was a first generation American who was sharing her feelings in poetry written over a period of 20 or 30 years or more.
Either way, we were presented with abstracted expressions of raw feelings that we wanted to understand from whence they came. In other words, we needed to have a clearer sense of context to figure out how her initially explosive and painful poems fit in with the contemporary dance (which was gracefully performed), the live music (invoked with beautiful vocals, flute and percussive sounds) and the show overall.
Martin enlisted a lovely dancer, Brigetta Ikwara; but as much as he must have meant for her movement to dramatize the poems, her performance seemed detached from the poetry. That’s not to say her dancing wasn’t delightful to watch. It was! But it didn’t quite serve as the moving thread that wove the whole show together.
He also enlisted marvelous musicians to perform songs selected by Joan that came straight out of the 1970s. Among them were many of my own favorites, especially ones by Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bob Marley and even the Beatles. They were sung soulfully by Serro Hulda, Lucas, Checkmate Mido and Ayrosh
Nonetheless, those sweet tunes didn’t necessarily help us understand how we went from poems conveying painful anger and dark despair to those reflecting peace, transcendent contemplation and love.
Finally, Martin enlisted three outstanding performers, Nick Ndeda, Angela Mwandanda, and Laura Ekumbo to dramatize Joan’s poetry. This they did with sensitivity and depth of feeling. They managed to express all of those powerful, and often philosophically-based ideas and emotions.
In fact, the trio portrayed inner aspects of the woman that we’d never known or seen before, giving us a deeper appreciation for Joan the poet and artist.
Given Martin has 300 of her poems to work with, perhaps the next time the show is staged, he’ll be able to find more verses that offer less abstracted imagery and more contextual terms so we can get a clearer sense of Mrs Sikand’s message and the meaning of her poetry.