Research in African Literatures 30.4 (1999) 127-134
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Bin Kadi-So and Dramatic Innovation
The "Indigenous Theater Movement of Ivory Coast" was created around 1938 within the framework of the Ecole William Ponty theater, a legacy of French colonization. Numerous talents, including Bernard B. Dadié, achieved fame on the theater stage with such plays as Assémien Déhylé roi du Sanwi and Kouao Adjoba. Designed essentially as entertainment, Ponty plays served as fertile soil for the cultural creations that were to be born in the 1960s.
Sociopolitical conditions imposed a new orientation, both thematically and esthetically, upon various indigenous and expatriate playwrights. The theatrical season of the years 1966-70 witnessed the predominance of a sociopolitical theater whose esthetic was in general based upon the norms of classical French dramaturgy. But beginning in 1972, artists made a conscious resolution to create a new dramatic language for the stage. In that light, a complete rupture occurred between the experimental theater of academics such as Bernard Zadi Zaourou, Marie-José Hourantier, Wèrè Wèrè Liking, Niangoran Porquet, and Touré Aboubacar, and the stage expression that had been inherited from the West. The new focus aimed at rehabilitating Africa's dramatic genius that remained active in the collective consciousness.
New concepts such as the "Griotique" or "Didiga" were forged by the artists based upon their own cultural sensitivities. Thus, the quintessence of "Didiga" (the art of the unthinkable), restored by Zadi Zaourou, could be found in a traditional artistic practice of Bétéland, in southwest Ivory Coast, according to Zadi Zaourou himself:
Le Didiga apparaît comme la forme achevée, le degré supérieur d'un art quel qu'il soit: l'art de rendre la justice, l'art de changer, l'art de dire des contes, l'art de maîtriser la parole en général. (24)
Didiga appears as the perfected form, the highest degree of any and every kind of art: the art of rendering justice, the art of singing, the art of telling stories, the art of mastering the word in general.
Refashioned for the dramatic stage, this art is an expression of the new impulse to rediscover an ancient African dramatic esthetics, an impetus that began in 1980 with some spectacular creations, such as La termitière (The termitary), Les rebelles du bois sacré (The rebels of the sacred wood), L'oeuf de pierre (The wooden egg). Didiga reached its apogee in December 1983 with Le secret des dieux (The secret of the gods), a play that experienced great success throughout the 1984 dramatic season.
Bin Kadi-So theater, directed by Marie-José Hourantier, is in that same esthetic vein. What dramaturgical innovation does Bin Kadi-So bring to contemporary African theater? That is the major concern of the present paper. To better consider the issue, the paper will focus on two main points: 1) the esthetics of traditional African theater and 2) the esthetic innovations in modern African theater. [End Page 127]
Within the framework of an experimental, university theater, Bin Kadi- So has developed an art of the spectacle that is commonly called ritual theater. At the origins of this experimentation was the work of two women: Marie-José Hourantier and Wèrè Wèrè Liking, both former members of the troupe of Zadi Zaourou, the creator of the new Didiga. The esthetic of ritual theater, created in 1980, is inspired by elements of theatricality and forms of dramatization from several manifestations of traditional African ritual: funeral, healing, initiation, and exorcism rites. This spectacle weaves together a new dramatic language and an original setting, drawing upon universal culture. It is based on the utilization of image-symbols, colors, scents, sounds, and particular rhythms, dances, deeply coded gestures, and postures that shock sensitivities. Ritual theater thus aims to be an excellent means of elucidation, practical education, and initiation for the reader-spectator and the actor. Since 1980, this esthetic has given rise to spectacles such as Les mains veulent dire, La puissance de Um, La rougeole arc...