“/peh-LO-tah/” a futbol framed freedom suite


Presented by ArtsEmerson
Created by Marc Bamuthi Joseph/The Living Word Project
Performed by The Living Word Project
Choreography by Stacey Printz
Composed by Tommy Shepherd
Directed by Michael John Garcés

May 1 – 5, 2019
Emerson Paramount Center
Boston, MA
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Review by Noe Kamelamela

(Boston, MA) Arts Emerson is presenting what could be the last five performances of /peh-LO-tah/ in its current incarnation this week.  After years of performances, the exploration of futbol and America which fuses dance, spoken word, song, and projected video into a semi-cohesive whole ends its tour.  A Black American Man tells his life story through his love affairs with the game. His expanding awareness of the world fills the space as he tells his tale. Soccer fans may also engage with spoken word and musical interludes featuring other ensemble members.

The sound is atmospheric and when juxtaposed with dance and word, overall /peh-LO-tah/ conveys awareness of different countries and peoples and immigrant folks in America that may miss some of the audience.  For people who are well-read and travel frequently, physical dance and projected video specify time and place; for others, the effects can be confusing, but at least beautiful. With a swift runtime of 90 minutes, any momentary confusion passes soon enough as timely transitions sweep the stage regularly to prepare for new pieces.  Some of the projected video draws audience focus that distracts from performers onstage. Wings on the stage cut off some of the projections for audience members far left or far right, and that can prevent being able to see the images in full.

My favorite images were the portraiture of Black Women and Men dressed as royalty each with an ornate soccer ball.  This challenges the color of whom is commonly seen and celebrated in the internationally beloved game of futbol. The Black ensemble represented at times, not just players in the game, but also the people who they must be off the field.  Thus, their spoken word pieces also connected to issues that are front and center in America these days, primarily the fear that Black Women and Men feel here in America regardless of how much talent or love they have for the game. I connected with much of the poetry, but as a defender myself in high school, I have to admit that “The Defender explains why Americans suck at soccer” made me laugh and think at the same time.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s latest piece, The Just and the Blind had its premiere earlier this year in March.  The Living Word continues its work in San Francisco.

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