ATLANTA — Hey what, fellas and ladys! Pictured in our Koltès Krump cartoonz above is Isma’il ibn Conner, the creator of 7 Stages of Atlanta’s resident KRUMP ensemble, a dance-king of NegusWorld KRUMP Atlanta, and the actor portraying King Claudius in 7 Stages’ lyrical-mayhem, black-box production of The Day of Murders in the History of Hamlet by the French playwright Bernard-Marie Koltès.
A lot of guys krump for fun, ya know, or they krump to do battle. Guys krump to escape the hard life—to get rid of the anger, aggression and frustration they had inside, positively always and in a non-violent way. But Isma’il ibn Conner, well, he is a different kind of krumper.
One Easter Sunday afternoon in April—on the 42nd anniversary of the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., to be exact—Conner krumped from his heart and soul to release the tensions and uncertainties that theatre brings. At a circular green-space park area in front of the MLK historic museum and visitor center in Atlanta, which is also the headquarters of the King Center for Non-Violent Change, and a stone’s throw away from the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King once preached, Conner is surrounded by a cipher of theatre actors, directors, artists and students, many from France, a few from New York City and London, a majority from Atlanta.
In front of this diverse audience, Conner krumped to express the spiritual connection he feels to Bernard-Marie Koltès. With his daughter Sumayyah looking on, Conner krumped to ask, “What is the future of 7 Stages’ 10-year Koltès Project in Atlanta?”
The crown on Conner’s head is heavy. As founder of this ambitious 10-year, 6-play project, which began in 2007 and which aims to translate and produce six of Koltès’s plays (which would premiere in Atlanta every other year through 2016), Conner’s challenge has been to expose Koltès’s work to a broader American public.
Having already performed in Black Battles With Dogs and In the Solitude of the Cotton Fields in both the U.S. and in France, Conner hopes that Atlanta’s Koltès Project will re-create a sort of radically uplifted mighty praise for this playwright’s distinctively classical voice, which has been raging for a couple of decades now in the non-English-speaking theatres of Europe.
You see, Koltès is the true spiritual heir of Marivaux, Samuel Beckett, Jean Cocteau and Jean Genet.
Conner has been intimately familiar with the excitement, thrills and heartaches that have confronted other American translators of Koltès in the past. This writer is incredible and mysterious.
Conner acknowledges the trail blazed by a group of independent theatre artists in New York (Lenora Champange, Michaël Attias, Andy Bragen, Hillary Gardner, Robert Lyons, Doris Mirescu, Daniel Safer and Marion Marion Schoevaert) who organized Koltès/New York 2003, the first festival dedicated to Koltès’s works in the U.S. But now the torch has passed to Conner, who’s been doing a lot of back-and-forth with François Koltès, who manages the estate of his late brother.
In a similar vein, Conner’s Atlanta colleague, Jennifer Orth-Veillon (the translator of The Day of Murders in the History of Hamlet), organized this past April a two-day International Koltès Symposium, featuring five scholars and directors (Dan Safer, Philip Boulay, Jean de Pange, Maria Delgado, and Amin Erfrani) presenting prepared talks on various aspects of this playwright.
“Isma’il spoke about the impact of Koltès on him as an African-American actor,” says Orth-Veillon. “The Day of Murders director Thierry de Peretti talked about how much Koltès had changed his view on art, politics, and culture. So many issues were addressed: Koltès in the context of France’s repressed memory of colonialism in Africa, Koltès’s lexicon, the paradoxical nature of Koltès’s aesthetic, the influence of cinema in Koltès work, questions of directing plays by Koltès. While many of these issues were first couched in a French context, the discussion moved on to discuss Koltès’s place in an American context. For example, Koltès’s take on French colonialism becomes a take on American slavery and segregation. The speakers, along with the audience, came to understand that Koltès’s approach to writing about humans and their place in this world was one that applied to any country in which voices and desires had been repressed.”
Since the 1980s, Koltès has been quite popular in continental Europe and in certain pockets of New York City. The job today, Conner says, is to translate that enthusiasm into American terms. After the current run of The Day of Murders in the History of Hamlet at 7 Stages, next up are Sallinger (Koltès’s tribute to the American novelist J.D. Salinger), The Night Just Before the Forests, Tabataba and Quay West (which Koltès wrote after visiting the U.S.).
“The future of the U.S. Koltes Project rests in our hands,” Conner says, while he wobbles and pops his chest to the upbeat and fast-paced hip-hop-style music issuing from the boom box. “ ‘Our’ means ‘America.’ BMK loved America, especially New York. It’s our turn to return the love.”
Randy Gener is the senior editor of American Theatre magazine. He recently debuted a photographic installation-art exhibition, “in the garden of One World,” at New York’s La MaMa La Galleria and is the author of “Love Seats for Virginia Woolf” and other Off-Broadway plays.
Photos by Randy Gener
Design by Ashley Faison