"LE MYSTERE DE PAPA LOKO"
Inspired by the clash of cultures that produced both the syncretic religions of Voodoo in Haiti and the Burning Man on the Playa, this ceremony of Initiation unleashes the mysteries of Voodoo to explore our own traumatic colonial heritage.
African slaves brought to Haiti by French masters to replace the Native American population they had annihilated, employed the ingenious, organic technique of religious syncretism to animate the deities they were forced to pray to, with their secret African spirits.
Reviving the primal beingwithin themselves, at the climax of the rite devotees and audience traversethe ring of fire at the Portal of Life and Death, crossing the threshold to the New Era.
Deriving its inspiration from the Voodoo Religion, "Le Mystere de Papa Loko" is only a fantasy presented with maximum respect for Haitian culture. The use of Voodoo myths for artistic inspiration implies our veneration for the rites that serve as freedom of spiritual expression for this oppressed society.
In our new syncretic religion, Playa Voodoo, there are five sects, proteges of five syncretic spirits (Lwas). These will be the primary manifestations of Playa Voodoo and our identities within the spiritual village of Tower Lakou.
1) the erotically veiled in virginal white, seductive divas of Ezili;
2) the fiery red warriors of Ogoun;
3)the obscene and morbid masters and zombies of the Guede;
4) the Holy Drummersand temple builders, sacred to Couzin Azaka; and
5) the primal, green creatures of the intertwined Rainbow Serpents Dambala and Aida.
There is however, one group whose members are called to serve the entire opera village community, the Ounsi, singers who rehearse and live together on the playa to lead the nightly dancing/singing/drumming ceremonies sacred to Papa Legba and acolytes who preside over the Midnight Initiations in the Guevo, sacred to Papa Loko. All participants will undergo a personal journey into deeper levels of themselves through three successive acts. Those who are called to become Dambala's snake people and Azaka's drummers and builders (who represent the aboriginal inhabitants of the land whether Africa or the New World) never shroud themselves with an outer shell, always maintaining direct contact with their playa and its rhythms.
However, the other three sects will invade them in the first act, each one shrouded in a hypocritical shell reminiscent of the Haitian colonial masters in order to conquer and persecute the Dambala natives. Finally le Mystere de Voodoo compels them to shed their colonial disguises to reveal their true Playa Voodoo identities.
In the second act, the sects will perform the secret rite sacred to their Playa Voodoo Lwas. In the final act's Shamanic Descent into our ancestral origins, everyone will shed even their Voodoo identities, going deeper into the primordial essence of the tribe, dancing communally as the Portal and towers burn, adorned merely with the most primitive prehistoric body paint, rattles, and masks.
There are two sacred spaces in the opera this year: Tower Lakou and the Temenos. Tower Lakou is comprised by the village-sized settlement around a Peristil (open air Voodoo temple) the site of nightly drumming/dancing/singing Playa Voodoo ceremonies surrounded by 4 Ounfos (altars Sanctum Sanctorum) and allied Theme Camps: Drumming, Beadmaking, Flagmaking, Maskmaking and Tribal-bodypainting. The Temenos is the sacred space where the opera will be performed and where initiations will take place at each preceding midnight. At its center stands The Portal of Life and Death: two totems 40' tall, leaning outwards, holding a large vertical pentagon between them. Representing the barrier that stands amidst the old and the new, the totems are covered with three-dimensional images depicting scenes of nature allegoric to the cycle of death and rebirth. A Sacrosanct Pentagon drawn on the ground, hosting a large pyre in each corner, surrounds the Portal of Life and Death. The pentagon and the pyres will glow with fire throughout the ceremony. Standing just outside the Temenos perimeter, stands the Guevo, the sacred hut of initiation containing both a white altar to Loko and a black one to Legba. This solid, locked structure, its richly decorated interior, completely secret, will be disclosed only to those who choose to undergothe midnight initiations.
: The music for this year's Opera-rite, and for the nightly Haitian-inspired voodoo drumming/ singing/ dancing ceremonies will be intensive and interactive. In the performance there will be a contrast between the eerie "ambient" technological music, echoing the fragmented layers of our complex heritage that live in the mists of our minds, and the live music representing our actions.
The live music will consist of Haitian, African, and Native American drumming and singing, led by the Ounsi. The Ounsi will live together at the center of Tower Lakou and lead the ceremonies in the nightly rituals and the opera. Located within Tower Lakou in their own drumming theme camp, African drumming rehearsals during the day and ceremonies at night will ensure that the rhythmic pulse of Playa Voodoo will rarely pause during our Holy Week.
Eerie fractured layers of music and sound, fragments weaving in and out before they can be recognized, slowly build an ambience as the BM participants await the entrance of Alewa, the supreme ancient African deity, guardian of crossroads and meeting places, who controls access to the spirit realm.
During this overture, 25 Guede priests or abbesses, dragging nuns and monks by iron chains attached to collars around their neck, circulate next to the BM participants, telling them that what they will see tonight is dangerous and taboo and that they should go home and watch their stock market investments and TV.
"CALLING THE HEAVENS"
Set at the times of the Colony, the opening of the ceremony portrays the syncretism at the roots of Afro-American religions. A tribal society meets a Colonial procession in the XVII Century.
This 1st Act will portray the shortcomings of Colonialism throughout History as well as describe the blend between an animist society with Western imagery and beliefs.
PHASE 1: "Invocation of Alewa"
1) Silence at the entrance of Alewa.
2) Drumming, with powerful African beat, at the entrance of the Holy Drummers.
3) Trumpet fanfare and Gregorian Chants with drumming at the entrance of the colonial procession.
Alewa appears at the scene wearing a terrifying mask, a giant erect phallus and wielding a towering flaming torch. Followed by his cohort of Ounsis and torch bearers, the Spirit lights the Pentagon in one spot. The flames will spread around lighting the pyres on its way.
Following Alewa, the Papa Loko Holy Drummers Ensemble leads a procession followed by swarms of green mud tinted snake people.
The ceremonial African march of the Holy Drummers ends when, going through the Portal, they reach their stationary position at the musicians stage.
A piercing trumpet fanfare from the stage turns into triumphal Colonial entrance as the Holy Family enters, attended by 25 white KKK angels and then followed by 25 torch-bearing Knights Templars with long white capes and a red symbol on their chests.
As they make their way around the circle, all the priests bow and ask Mary to save them and the audience. As soon as the fanfare sounds, the snakes stop running and gather to escort Alewa to the black stage around which they cower, writhing in a mass.
When the Holy Family arrives at the white stage, Ounsi men chant Gregorian as the Holy Family ascends and consecrates the stage. This causes the Knights Templars to march directly to their defensive stations in a great circle confronting the audience. The priests welcome their protection and bless them, asking them to punish the audience.
The KKK Angels follow them, forming an intimidating concentric circle inside the soldiers. Each KKK position herself behind a Knight that they consider to be utterly attractive.
PHASE 2: "Calling of the Lwas"
Five short Haitian inspired songs call the five Spirits. When Alewa and the Holy Family at the elevated stages throw Bright burning powder into their chalices. The Holy Drummers join in furiously.
ACTION: ELEVATED ALTARS:
Arriving to the stages, the Holy Family and Alewa throw bright burning powder to the chalices signaling the entrance of the sects. During this phase the deities will perform the sacralization of the space in preparation for the upcoming ceremony and, in unison with the action on the ground, the deities will assume their new identities as Papa Legba, Papa Loko and Ezili Freda.
This phase will display multiple mini dramas representing the metamorphosis of colonial characters into Vodou entities.
At the call of the Lwas, five groups enter, led by large puppets representing the Spirits and a choreographed Dance of the Flags, carrying on their shoulders the altars pertinent to their Lwas. These groups, dancing in different styles, will parade among the mini dramas to finally place the altars in front of the five pyres of the Pentagon. They will be joined by their members after their transformation.
1) Dambala: the Snake Spirit, and his consort Aida represent the primal totality of nature and of cosmic union. The snakes already in the scene, possessed by their deity, drop to the ground to meet Dambala represented by a large puppet and join him in his entrance.
Reaching the KKK Angels and Knights, the snakes drop to the ground and writhe as snakes, possessed by their Lwa. While the KKK Angels and Knights remain posed, the Priests frantically damn the snakes while the Nuns cower behind them.
2) Ezili: in white and silver dresses, accompany the puppet representing the goddess of love. When this group comes in, the KKK Angels begin a seductive striptease for the snakes who are writhing around them. As the KKK robes come off, the Nuns are mortified and the Priests warn "Eve" not to be tempted by the serpents.
3) Ogoun: in red and black, brandishing swords in flames and torches, represent the aggressive, macho aspect of Fire. At the march of the Children of Ogoun each Ezili approaches a Knight from behind, followed by her writhing snake. Reaching her Knight she runs her hands over his body, which is rigid in his attempt to resist.The Priests loudly lecture not to be tempted by the sinful flesh of women. Finally the Knights accept a drinkof rum which precipitates their transformation.
Stripping, the Knights show their new identity as a Children of Ogoun menacing the audience with fire and ignoring the protests of the Priests.
4) Guede, the Spirits of the dead. Led by Bawon Samedi and a troupe of dead, walk backwards advancing painfully towards their pyre. Suddenly everybody turns to the Priests and Nuns who freeze. The snakes, Ogoun soldiers and the Ezilim descend upon them, stripping off their robes revealing their naked bodies and sunken eyes. They are obliged to perform humiliating things, which they perform stunned and slowly, like zombies. Revealing their new identity they join the sect of Ogoun.
5) Couzin Azaka, the Spirit of drumming, representing the beat of the heart of the Universe, will be joined by the Holy Drummers in his march towards the pyre next to the musician's stage.
At the end of this phase each sect has reached their home pyre and remained posed in preparation for the rites. A group of selected Ezilis will join the rituals of Papa Loko and Ezili Freda on the white stage and some Guede will join Papa Legba on the black.
"THE RITES OF TRANSFORMATION"
Set in current times, the Sects perform the Ritual of the Spirits.
a) A tense moment of silence precedes a slow emotional song played for the first phase of the rites,
b) an intense Afro-Haitian inspired composition will be played for the second, and
c) the third section will increase in volume and energy to the highest degree of drama as the background for the final metamorphosis represented by the burning of altars and objects of adoration.
A Kreyol reciting will cue each phase of the ritual:
a) "Bonswa Dambala Wedo, kouman nou ye. Nou la ye, Ayida Wedo repon. Kreyol Dambala nou ye"
b) "Ogun Feray-o, lan men ki moun, ou kite bagi-a la. Lem retemsongeOgou Feray.
c) "Papa Gede bel gason, abiye tut an nuar li samble youn depite"
ACTION: ELEVATED ALTARS:
Through the deployment of this phase, the deities get undressed and body painted with tribal symbols.
The angels accompanying Ezili and Papa Loko on the stage and the Guede with Papa Legba will join the rites on the stage and on the stairs.
This ritual of Transformation will evolve in three stages. At the end of each one, signaled by the reciting voice, the sects will move to the next pyre to continue with the subsequent stage. The different stages will be represented by various choreographed dances.
PHASE 1: "Requiem for time." In the first stage the devotees are taken out of the world of time, responsibility, and individuality. In this stage the devotees sacralize the space and altars, following the aria in slow motions.
PHASE 2: "The Breach."
In this liminal stage, the devotees are betwixtand between the positions assigned by life and society. This ambiguous state is likened to death, to being in the womb, to invisibility, to bisexuality and to darkness. The groups will create their own individualliminal phase idiosyncratic to their Spirit.
PHASE 3: "The Ordeal."
In order to emerge from the liminal stage deprived of all information, the devotees rip their clothes and throw them to the fire along with altars, flags and objects of adoration as their last step towards total liberation from the past and from their identities. They are reborn at the time of the origin of man, naked and bewildered ready to descend into their ancestral subconscious. Frenetically dancing, the Initiates align along the Sacrosanct Pentagon. The Children of Ogoun leave the scene.
PHASE 1: "Shamanic descent."
A haunting female aria brakes the silence. Slowly, rattles and drums join the beat until a newer faster pattern is played when the portal is lit.
ACTION: ELEVATED ALTARS:
Naked and painted, the deities descend from the stages and light them in their march to the Portal.
Requiem for time. All performers drop to the ground for the haunting female aria. Then, all rise slowly at Butoh pace to end in their own Mystic Pose. They will remain in that position until the end of the song.
This represents and will become, in fact, a deep and emotional moment of awareness.
The participants have gone through the passage of time to find the primal being within themselves. At the end of the aria, Papa Loko with his flag will run close to the static devotees in the Pentagon bringing them back to life.
1) Papa Legba plays the Shamanic drum until the totems are lit.
2) "Call and response" Afro-Haitian song accompany by devotees and BM participants.
ACTION: ELEVATED ALTARS:
The Children of Ogoun announce the culmination of the ritual with their dance of swirling torches on the stages.
Papa Legba beats the giant drum as a signal of awakening and command for the Children of Ogoun to attack the Portal. Revived by their gods, the Initiates dance frenetically while waiting for their turn to run across the flaming pentagon at the Portal of Life and Death.
Later they will form a path before and after the Portal for the BM participants to follow through in their passage to the New Era.
PHASE 3: "Incantation"
Having crossed the Portal of Life and Death, participants and audience dance and sing in celebration welcoming the dawn of the New Era...and chaos resumes.