WRITTEN, DESIGNED AND DIRECTED BY BRETT BAILEY
COMPOSER AND MUSICAL DIRECTOR: SHANE COOPER
ART WORK: BRETT BAILEY & TANYA P JOHNSON
VIDEO ANIMATION: KIRSTI CUMMING
WITH: ABEY XAKWE, APOLLO NTSHOKO, ELVIS SIBEKO, HLENGIWE MKHWANAZI, JONNO SWEETMAN, MAPUMBA CILOMBO, MIKHAELA KRUGER, SHANE COOPER, WISEMAN SITHOLE & ZANELE MBIZO
PHOTOGRAPHS: NICKY NEWMAN AND NARDUS ENGELBRECHT
SAMSON uproots the popular biblical myth from its religious context, and transplants it into a dystopian contemporary landscape of unbridled capitalism, human displacement, xenophobia and violence. It asks us to reflect on the historical injustices and repressed rage that so often underlie the ruthless acts of terror committed by marginalized, alienated men.
The moving, poetic and thought-provoking ritual-theatre piece is set to a haunting live score composed and directed by one of South Africa’s foremost jazz and electronic musicians, Shane Cooper. It features opera, choral vocals, tight ensemble work and sweeping video scenography.
Bailey has figured Samson, the character, as an avatar for the repressed rage of those people that have been trampled by expansionist forces for centuries.
In an era of intolerance and polarisation, a young man with a hero mission channels the fury of his subjugated people, and inflicts terror on the population that he holds accountable for their oppression. As the body count mounts, Delilah – an ambivalent enemy agent – seduces and ritually castrates him. His brutal punishment in the detention facilities of the authorities spurs him to an act of suicidal devastation…
The cast is headed up by dynamic dancer-choreographer, Elvis Sibeko in the role of Samson. Sibeko is also a sangoma– a traditional diviner. He and Bailey have worked together to harness the deep primal energies that underpin Sibeko’s spiritual practice to shape the choreography and character of Samson.
Also on stage are opera singer Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi, actor Wiseman Sithole, and the performers Apollo Ntshoko, Monde Abey Xakwe and Zanele Mbizo, who have appeared in several of Bailey’s works over the years. Along with Shane Cooper, the on stage musical ensemble comprises keyboardist Mikhaela Kruger, drummer Jonno Sweetman and guitarist Mapumba Cilombo.
The appearance of SAMSON on the international program of the Avignon Festival in 2020 was put on hold owing to the pandemic.
KYKNET FIESTA NATIONAL THEATRE AWARDS 2020: Best Director, Best Music Theatre Production. Nominated for: Best Overall Production, Best Design and Best Costume Design.
WOORDFEES: Best Music Theatre Production, and Best Music and Musical Direction
INTRODUCTION TO SAMSON BY BRETT BAILEY
The Old Testament hero myth of Samson (Judges 13 – 16), is a compelling, if bewildering, tale of romance, betrayal and violent revenge. It recounts the saga of a strongman who is anointed by the Hebrew god to liberate his people from their Philistine overlords.
Judeo-Christian readings of the myth generally reflect on the spiritual weakness in this hero, who is distracted by lust and rage from fulfilling his divine task. I have approached the story with fresh eyes, free from the constraints of religious moralizing.
Scouting for a new work in mid-2017, I reflected on how the Greek tragedians extrapolated stories from their sacred myths and harnessed them to speak to contemporary issues. I trawled the bible for stories, eventually settling on SAMSON: it clicked with me. But grappling to find the myth’s resonance within our moment of history, to understand what it wants to say through me, has been a long and tough journey.
Beyond the violence and the heroics of the myth, I find a great deal of sadness in the story. A central theme of the work that I have made is loss: of home, of self, of faith, of so much fragile beauty to the blind forces of avarice. My poetic interpretation brings the tale crashing into the 21st century, and orders it within the concerns I have around migration, bigotry, colonialism, and oppressive capitalist policies. It draws on my fascination with shamanism, ritual, the repressed and the non-rational.
SAMSON was created with the support of The National Lotteries Commission South Africa and the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) in collaboration with Woordfees and the National Arts Festival.