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Marc Bamuthi Joseph and /peh-LO-tah/

Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s work, Scourge, adeptly fuses hip hop, spoken word, and live music to explore the narrow space between history, myth and speculation. In Scourge, Joseph digs into his ancestral roots to tell the story of Haiti--the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, with a long and violent history of exploitation—and more specifically the story of two kids who are torn between their Caribbean roots and urban America where they have grown up. This nonlinear collage of lives, myths and experiences has echoes of Shakespeare, anchored by Joseph’s own tour de force performance as Grandpere—a kind of first generation, world-weary Prospero, determined to leave his Americanized grandchildren a sense of their place in history.

To help realize the complex themes of the piece, Joseph merges urgent voices, music and movement through a vigorous collaboration between veteran talents such as Rennie Harris, John Santos, Adia Whitaker and Kamilah Forbes and the vital, emerging voices of three young writers from Youth Speaks, a San Francisco-based company that nurtures and develops the next generation of poets and writers. Additional documentary footage of Haiti shot by French/ Haitian visual artist Maxence Denis augments the visual environment.

Three live musicians provide a multilayered sound accompaniment from the cacopohonous to the bluesy, effortlessly mixing beat-boxing rhythms with Caribbean tunes to create a blended style that traverses several time periods. The dancing--a mixture of African-based dance and hip hop is electrifying. The choreography, propelled by the music, works seamlessly with the text and powerfully moves the narrative forward.

Scourge was principally commissioned by Youth Speaks, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. It has also received commissioning funds from the National Performance Network, Dance Place and the Bates Dance Festival through the National Performance Network Creation Fund, and institutional contributions from New World Theater, Dance Theater Workshop, ODC Theater, Aaron Davis Hall, and 651ARTS. Scourge is made possible through the generous support of the Wallace A. Gerbode Foundation, The Creative Work Fund, The Rockefeller MAP Fund, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Zellerbach Family Fund, the Ford Foundation, the New England Foundation for the Arts, and Stanford University’s Institute for Diversity in the Arts. Funds from Creative Capital supported the further development and touring of the work in 2006 and 2007.