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Flash Review, 1-9: Buddha's Creation
Putting the Funk Back in the Myth

By Faith Pilger
Copyright 2001 Faith Pilger

"This is not television!" -- Akim Funk Buddha

"We highly recommend the cushions! Best seats in the house," ushers exclaimed as we entered the second floor theater at P.S. 122. Our boots were still soggy from the streets of Manhattan; sidewalks lined with dirty snowdrifts and crowded with faces of frustration. For a Friday night it was immediately apparent that this would be a harder audience to win over...and New Yorkers are never easy.

Thanks to scenic designer Ryan Gill, the atmosphere in the theater was potent, more like a cafe or club...with an Eastern flair. "An ethnic futuristic hyp-hop-notic symphonic experience," read the flyer for Dha Fuzion NYC -- An Urban Mythological Musical. In my program it was titled, "Back to Creation." The aforementioned cushions were actually beautiful silk or satin longpillows which made up the first few rows of seats on the risers. Hanging from the ceiling were a series of similarly designed eastern-style lamps and delicate fabrics framing the stage space while masking the eclectic band playing as we entered. Screens displayed the trip-hyp-notic, fractal, fetal images of videographer Adam Chao. The enigma was completed by a white cocoon-like sack hanging above center stage. Not surprisingly, this sack was occupied by the Funk Buddha himself, who began by birthing himself onto our stage.

This production is the definition of "fuzion" as conceived, choreographed and directed by Akim Ndlovu "Funk Buddha." A very diverse artist born in Syracuse but raised in Zimbabwe, Ndlovu has a presence that appears ageless. His face and body are sculpted like the ancient artworks of early civilizations while his mouth emits poetic stories in a dub-style rap, rooted in the present both culturally and literally. He introduced himself to us as an infant, born to the moment. And it took a moment to realize that the infant's cries we heard were sounds he was making in the back of his throat as he crawled around on all fours. These cries became a sort of beat box bass for the beginning of his story.

In his real life story, Funk Buddha moved to NYC in 1990 and was inspired to try street performance. This explains his obvious interest in and ease with audience interaction as well as his virtual "Bag O Tricks." He is self-taught in a variety of talents from Eastern arts and hip hop styles to standing still without blinking. He is clearly interested in process over product, as stated in the program notes, yet his product is abundant with special effects, including spray paint, a smoke machine and break dancing gymnastics. He literally jumps through hoops for his audience. Unfortunately, our audience was not as willing to return his enthusiasm. "This is not television," he commented on the lukewarm audience responses. Fortunately, we were mostly all won over by the end of the evening.

Akim Funk Buddha, though he never left the stage, was always interesting and innovative. The only other performer who equalled his versatility as well as his charisma was also the assistant director. Chikako Iwahori, a.k.a. Cat Dragon, is a stunning Japanese woman, studied in a variety of styles including tap, African dance and baton twirling, with a black belt in karate. She plays the part of a magical elder who teaches the Funk Buddha some universal lessons, not unlike Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid. Her studies with the tap masters were apparent in her impeccable timing and grace.

It is difficult to name an element NOT woven into this performance experience: DANCE (the South African "Gum Boot" and war dances, capoiera, break dancing, Balinese body locking, hip hop popping, tap dancing, Shaolin Kung Fu, as well as dancing in Japanese "keta shoes," not traditionally used for dance but very rhythmically effective). Not to mention the excellent dance ensemble/b-girls {Jenn Bireckenridge, Halley "Sherok" Gerstel, Zakiyyah Modeste, Angelina "Roskee" Schreider, Misa Ogasawara}. These dancers were used sparingly throughout but showed their real colors in an end-of-the-show jam (which lead into the audience participatory dance party.)

Also represented were: THEATER (storytelling through spoken word, dub style, rap, Mongolian throat singing, and a one-act-play that involves band members, actors, dancers and audience involvement) and: MUSIC (a non-traditional band including: electric guitar {Edward Alsiva, also a semi-pro soccer player and black belt in karate}, electric bass, violin and trombone {Felix Bass Mantra}, sitar, "daf"-a Persian frame drum, tanpura {Brother Neel}, double bass {Jason Sarubbi}, drums and electronic percussion {Vincent "Van Trigger Man" Scallia}, drums and dance {Sister Mami}, and Father Laraaji as band leader. The latter was particularly charismatic, described in our program as "a multi-dimensional being" who was mentored by vaudeville comic veteran George Wiltshire and conducts laughter meditation workshops, among other theatrical activities.

I have no doubt that this production will only improve with time, so put on your snow boots and shuffle on down to P.S. 122 before January 14.

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