"Bokan, The Bad Hearted" by Federico Restrepo, composed by Elizabeth Swados, performed by Loco 7 , is a puppet dance drama that stages a legend of the indigenous tribes of the Amazon Jungle using life-sized puppets, live original music, dance and video. Its subject is the heroic poem of Yurupari, which descends from the Colombian and Brazilian Amazon and deals with primordial struggle for power between men and women.
Restrepo, an auteur of dance puppetry, is distinguished by his interest in dramatizing the formative legends South America. His puppet play "Aguirre, the Spiral of the Warrior" (La MaMa, 1996) dramatized the Americanization of the European man through the story of the 16th century explorer Lope de Aguirre. The current work is the central Amazonian myth on the origins of the matriarchal and the patriarchal systems. This production is supported by an Artist Grant from The Jim Henson Foundation and a cultural grant from The Puffin Foundation. The epic myth inspiring this production is found in the collected poems of Yurupari, ancient stories of the Amazon Jungle which are over 2000 years old. Together, they spin a myth of a matriarchal society where women were considered a superior species due to their ability to give birth. The emphasis of the social structure was communal responsibility - the entire village is one family, mothers and fathers to all past, present and future generations.
For this piece, Restrepo selected myths dealing with the moment in which the matriarchal system was destroyed and replaced with a patriarchal society. The men of the tribe are seduced by a half-god, half-mortal man, Izi, to rebel against the women. This leads to male domination and disharmony. Underlying the struggle is the rivalry between the Sun-god (symbolizing fire and father) and Seucy, the Water-goddess (symbolizing water, fertility and mother). These two gods, eternally separated, struggle through their passion for each other to gain control of the mortals.
In an attempt to blight the misguided species, the Sun-god sends a disease that kills the men of the village, thinking that the women alone could have no way to procreate and thus be bound for extinction. However, the Water-goddess, Seucy, defying the will of the Sun-god, takes pity on the women and invites them to swim in her fertile waters. There, they are impregnated, guaranteeing that a next generation will come. One of the babies subsequently born from these waters is named after the goddess and deemed the new chief of the village. The Sun-god bides his time for revenge and waits until this girl is older, then impregnates her. A son is born, named Izi, and not wanting to entrust his child to the women, the Sun-god steals him and raises him alone. Twenty years later, he returns Izi to rule the village.
Izi, who is often referred to as the Orpheus of the Amazon, tempts the males with promises of gifts and knowledge. He leads them away from the women--the first step for male dominance--separating men from women, creating mistrust and disharmony. Izi introduces the sacred flute Yurupari to the men. Through music of this flute, he creates a dance ritual that entrances the men, bringing them together for flagellation, by which they prove their loyalty to him. Izi threatens to kill any woman who follows him and the men into the forest. When a woman does and the punishment is levied, the victim is his mother and Izi is given the heroic epithet, Bokan, The Bad Hearted.
With the death of his mother, the newly named Bokan becomes Chief of the village and the patriarchal system is secured. The openness of the matriarchal community is replaced, the new society's values are changed, and the emphasis is now put on dominance based on physical strength, secrets and fear. With the help of the Sun-god, the Water-goddess is erased from the memory of the people and so is the memory of matriarchy. But in the Indigenous conception of the time cycle, a day will come in which women will own the sacred flute of Yurupari and change back the social values.
The ritual of Yurupari still exists today as a rite of male passage among Amazonian peoples of Colombia, Brazil and Peru. In it, a boy approaching maturity finds himself as a person and connects to a deeper understanding of the jungle. He is exposed to and taught to play the sacred Yurupari and given a root drink called Yaga. This root, typically used in the Amazon as medicine, opens the mind to dreams and hallucinations. The village Shaman guides the boy through his visions, connecting him to both the spirit world and the jungle's botanicals and animals.
In 2000 Restrepo was invited to attend a Yurupari Ritual and create a theater piece based on it. He was prevented from attending the climactic event by a sudden rise in violence in the Colombian civil war, but his desire to research these people and their culture stayed with him and inspired "Bokan, The Bad Hearted." With the support of a seed grant from the Jim Henson Foundation, Restrepo went to the Amazon Jungle in 2003 and recorded 15 hours of video, including interviews and footage of the river and jungles.
In this production, half of the elements are puppets, half are people. There are Restrepo's trademark life-sized puppets, made of cotton and cloth which are animated by black-clad dancers from behind. The tattoos of the Tukana Indians will be represented with body paint. Puppets include an 18' x 18' mask of the sun god, a large shadow puppet of the human form of the sun, a hand-held dummy shaman, twelve 15' marionette trees that dance (giving us the jungle), a giant bird, various small animals puppets such as monkeys and snakes, and little dolls representing human babies. Costumes of the human characters are festooned with beads and feathers. Seucy is represented by a huge puppet. The dancers and their body puppets are colored in purple, suggesting a blend of Ceuci (whose color is blue, like the water) and Izi (whose is red, like the sun). Otherwise, costumes employ feathers and colors that are used by the indigenous peoples of the story. The idea is to turn the theatre space into an environmental pulsing organism, thriving with a charged frenetic rhythm, filled with puppets ranging from small, to life size, to larger then life.
As she has in a several La MaMa productions based on Greek plays, Elizabeth Swados is creating a made-up primitive language for the score of "Bokan, The Bad Hearted," using elements of American Indian languages and others.
The part of the Shaman will be performed by Shigeko Suga, a member of La MaMa's Great Jones Repertory who is known for her prowess in Flamenco and Butoh. She has acted in La MaMa's "Mythos Oedipus" as Hera and in the Serban/Swados "The Trojan Women" as Hecuba.
"Bokan, The Bad Hearted" is conceived, designed, choreographed and directed by Federico Restrepo. Music is composed by Elizabeth Swados with additional music by Camila Celin and Daniel Correa. Puppet and set design and construction are by Federico Restrepo. Costume design and construction are by Denise Greber and Federico Restrepo, with additional construction by Jennifer Bruno, Golnaz Fakhimi, Shari Sabel Strandmark and Ollie Rasini. Video edit design is by Angela Sierra. Video design consultant is Josue Duarte. The performers are Federico Restrepo, Carolyn Cryer, Kate Duyn, Denise Greber, Dennis Guzman, Aaron Hastkell, Tom Lee, Chris Mehmed, Eugene the Poogene, Ollie Rasini, Abigail Rasminsky, Shigeko Suga and Maggie Thom. Puppeteers include Jennifer Bruno, Golnaz Fakhimi and Amanda Miller.
Loco 7 (formerly known as Puppets and Drummers) was founded in 1985. Its mission has been to develop the use of puppetry as an instrument for the dancer, a style which incorporates dance and design. Utilizing rhythmic music, dancers, body puppets and larger then life marionettes, Restrepo weaves a choreography which extends beyond the body of the dancer. Dealing with themes such as South American culture and history, the immigrants' experience and urban life, Restrepo creates, in animated movement, ever-changing and surreal environments.
Federico Restrepo was born in Bogota he began his training of mime and ballet as a young boy with Priscila Welton and Miroslav Kura. He began dancing with the Ballet National de Colombia in 1983. He first came to New York in 1985 and studied at the Merce Cunningham School and danced with the Empty Hands Company headed by Cho Koo-Hyun and Yoshiko Chuma's School of Hard Knocks. Since 1985 he has developed a puppetry style which incorporates dance and design. His goal as a director has been to design the puppets as an extension of the dancer's body. His intense love and passion for the history of the Americas and his journeys in New York are a constant source for all his work. He has created seven original pieces at La MaMa, most of which have had subsequent tours through out the world. "9 Windows" (2002) was an investigation into the immigrant's mind. . "Colores" (1998), created exciting conceptual images of the evolution of the Mestizo people of Colombia, whom he lovingly refers to as the children of the Spanish conquest. That production was part of Jim Henson Foundation's International Festival of Puppet Theater. "Aguirre, the Spiral of the Warrior" (1996) was based on the legend of the Spanish conquistador who rebelled against Spain to create his own empire. "Cosecha" (1990) was a work on the lives of Colombian refugee farmers. "Loco 7" (1989) was a multi-media odyssey through the subways of NY with giant puppet subways and was the origin of his company's name, Loco 7 Dance Theater. It followed two other Gotham fantasies: "Locombia" (1986) and "Carrera" (1988). In addition to his work with Loco 7, Restrepo has appeared as a member of the Great Jones Repertory Company in Ellen Stewart's "Mythos Oedipus," "Dionysus Fillus Dei," "Monk and The Hangman's Daughter," "Seven Against Thebes" and "Draupadi." He is a resident choreographer and puppet designer of La MaMa E.T.C.
Elizabeth Swados began her professional career as a composer at La MaMa, where she worked with Peter Brook and Andrei Serban and won her first Obie at age 21 for setting "Medea" to ethnic music. Her memorable La MaMa productions include "Fragments of a Greek Trilogy" with Serban, "Crow" with Robbie Anton and the opera-oratorio "Jerusalem." In 1996, she directed a pair of her own musicals, "Doonesbury Flashbacks," based on Garry Trudeau's comic strip, and "The Emperor's New Clothes" based loosely on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, at La MaMa. During the last few seasons, she has scored two more epic plays for the Great Jones Repertory, "Seven Against Thebes" and "Antigone," both by Ellen Stewart, and directed two other original musicals for teenagers. Swados has been nominated for Tony, Drama Desk, Ace and Emmy Awards and has won several Obies, Outer Critics Circle Awards, a PEN Citation, and an Anne Frank National Foundation for Jewish Culture award. Her Broadway credits also include "Doonesbury." Her Off-Broadway credits also include, among others, "Alice in Wonderland" (with Meryl Streep), "Dispatches," "The Haggadah", "Jerusalem," "Rap Music Ronnie" (with Gary Trudeau), and "Missionaries.