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Get There: A Review
Four Electric Ghosts: An Opera-Masquerade by Mendi and Keith Obadike
Four Electric Ghosts, the newest Opera Masquerade from digital, performance and conceptual artists Mendi and Keith Obadike, is the answer to the question of what we do now, dispersed over space, to collect our creative resources for resistance, to love our selves enough to act. I was blessed to witness their most recent sold out show as part of UNC Chapel Hill’s Loading Dock Series at Memorial Hall.
The world is black. The village is back. From the first moment that the radiant quartet starts to groove our understanding moves down to include our hips and history. Story reaches up into song, down into soul, dances through your back, back to outerspace. This is what we do around the cybernetic fire: tell the afro-futurist parables that can grow our spirits and possess our feet.
Imagine Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls was reincarnated inside a video game. Imagine four colored girls, Red, Pink, Cyan and Orange dancing their way home in the land of the dead. The story is narrated by Mendi Obadike, Karma Mayet Johnson and Latasha Nevada Diggs, a fierce trio of singing storytellers, reminiscent of a sultry soul act and embodied by glitter banded dancers. Four Electric Ghosts reprograms a narrative of sisterhood, collaboration, cultural appropriation, queer love interrupted, ego squelched and spirits disturbed.
Based on the bright digital metaphor of the Pac Man game, and Amos Tutuola’s 1954 novel My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Mendi and Keith use this performative form that mixes opera, masquerade, a soul music aesthetic, digital story and dance to bring Yoruba proverbs and a post-modern outerspace sense of longing into conversation.
This is Pac-Man re-envisioned from the perspective of the big-eyed ghosts who have to find a way deal with a faceless monster that will gobble up everything in its path masquerading innocence to an irresistible beat. We know something about this. We need this somehow. We savor the proverbs stacked like sweets. Who disturbs the wasp he stings. Can’t use everyday medicine to cure a new disease. The songs stay in our heads. We are remembering something we already know, seeing it for the first time in the register of our sped up pulses and cybernetic desires for quick love and clarity.
Four Electric Ghosts is an invitation to dance in the present. (The cast invites members of the audience to get up and dance during the last number, but many of us were grooving all along.) The songs that tell the story are from the radio station of my dreams, where love is complicated, learning is funky and ancestors are remembered. The dances, choreographed by Paloma McGregor are the healing invocations that express the yearning of my scoliosis crooked back.
What I mean is, your body deserves this, your brain craves it. Beg or borrow if you have to. Steal the time away from whatever brilliance you are doing. Imagine the charge you need, lighting up a black box near you, waking up your spirit, through your body and your brain. And then do what it takes to get there.