New York | 1h 10m | Already closed

The Head and the Load

From 15 critic and 13 member reviews
Members say: Ambitious, Great staging, Epic, Absorbing, Masterful

About the show

Part installation, part performance piece, South African artist William Kentridge's new multi-media work uses music, dance, and film in its exploration of apartheid, colonialism, and totalitarianism. More…

This processional musical journey melds performances by orchestra collective The Knights, and an international ensemble cast of singers, dancers, and performers accompanied by a chorus of mechanized gramophones alongside multiple film projections and shadow play to create a landscape of immense proportion and imagination that utilizes the vast sweep of the Wade Thompson Drill to upend standard notions of scale.

Time Out New York

"To give you a sense of the stupendous scale of William Kentridge’s 'The Head & the Load' at the Park Avenue Armory: I watched it, rapt, for an hour and a half, and I completely missed an entire marching band and a set piece the size of a baby elephant...The frenzy of beautiful noise has been exquisitely orchestrated to overwhelm us without any obvious sonic assault...On every level, 'The Head & the Load' is a feast." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

“A stunning artistic achievement on an overwhelming scale...Jaw-dropping spectacle...An enormous ‘installation art’ piece – a synthesis of music, movement, sculpture and shadow play...The visual impact is stunning...The effect is overwhelming...The marvelous multi-national performers’ names are too numerous to mention here. Please pay respects to their heroic artistic achievement, as they themselves honor the unsung heroes of the past.” Full Review


“Kentridge enlists our sympathies for the fallen African men and women through exquisite and disturbing tableaus of beauty. It is an achievement of a lifetime...The audience is invited to witness a grand procession of song, recitation, dance, image and music...’The Head and The Load’ is a spectacle and a pageant of grand scale, yet its refined execution, inspired imagination and poignant messages reach us with the quiet heart of an intimate chamber music experience.” Full Review

The New York Times

"A fiercely beautiful historical pageant of music, movement and shadow play that reanimates these lost African combatants, who principally served as porters under British, French, Belgian and German command...This musical work is a more pressing, even ferocious production, with immediate relevance to today’s debates on the endurance of colonial legacies in our views of recent history." Full Review


“Kentridge's production is overwhelming, forcing us to feel the immense weight of a subject few of us have ever paused to contemplate...Our heads dart from side to side trying to keep up with Maqoma's dynamic choreography, which synthesizes West African dance with military drills...The aural landscape is just as vast...The result is a violent cacophony that occasionally settles into harmony of unspeakable beauty.” Full Review

New York Theater

“An unusual and startling hybrid piece, where it uses a cacophony of words and images, music and dance to bring us the war as it played out in Africa...Powerful moments are interspersed throughout the bombardment of a show that presents history as chaos...The program offers...historical context...Without such grounding, one’s attention might drift. Yet it’s worth it, because a story so full of horror should not be lost to history, and because it’s being presented with such theatrical audacity.” Full Review

Gotham Playgoer

“Kentridge’s remarkable multimedia piece about the overlooked role of Africans in World War I...The large cast is excellent without exception. The stage is so wide that it is almost impossible to take in everything that is going on at any given moment. I doubt that anyone would understand the events depicted without reading about them in the program...Nevertheless, it’s a truly unique experience that should not be missed by the adventurous.” Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

"The play covers so much ground it’s hard to describe it without making it sound like a crazy mishmash—it’s as much a living sculpture as a traditional play...The musical performers are all outstanding...As each new event within the performance unfolded, it felt like turning a new page in an old scrapbook, full of ephemera and odd snapshots of a lost world. If Kentridge’s intention is to expose the colonialists’ shameful conduct, he succeeds with this beautiful and poignant piece." Full Review

The Wall Street Journal

"A superb assemblage of performers is juxtaposed against giant drawn, animated or historical video images...In Kentridge’s collage style, disparate elements are layered to create a powerful unity. In one indelible scene, the shadows of a procession of people carrying the materials of war are cast on the screen behind, where they mix with video shadow images of other carriers, an endless parade of cannon fodder. But Kentridge ensures that these shadow people also have voices." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

“Grand, sad, and ferociously disjointed...A 90-minute collage that, if it doesn’t rattle you into existential despair, may at least send you to consult Wikipedia to see what the whole thing’s about...’The Head and the Load’ explodes complicated history into so many urgent fragments that it feels like a frenzied dream...I don’t mind....a nonlinear artistic experience, but when it feels like I’m supposed to be digesting a historical argument at the same time, my brain goes on the fritz.” Full Review

The London Evening Standard

for a previous production "The fragmented language ultimately coalesces with extraordinary elegance and emotional and visceral power. Kentridge’s multimedia language is brought vividly into three dimensions in marvellous collisions between his animated drawings, the silhouettes of performers, and their raw presence on stage...No one really knows how many Africans perished but it was in the hundreds of thousands. Kentridge et al have created a masterpiece to mark this shaming tragedy." Full Review

The Independent (UK)

for a previous production "An electrifying collage of imagery and ideas. Remembering those whose deaths were often left unrecorded, it finds its own rich language for incomprehension, its own ways of visualising those who were unseen....'The Head & the Load' is superbly orchestrated. Holding multiple elements in play, Kentridge and his collaborators open out the complexities of each situation while driving the performance forward." Full Review

British Theatre Guide

for a previous production "The imaginative landscape of 'The Head and the Load' is a stimulating jumble, a collage of ideas, words, music, dance (a poignant male duet), film projections, mechanised sculptures and shadow play...The creative team is amazing...This is a typical William Kentridge project mixing multiple artistic disciplines with political art, with his anti-apartheid and anti-colonialism sentiments...To say I am a fan is an understatement." Full Review

The Voice (UK)

for a previous production "William Kentridge is a multi-talented political artist – there’s no doubt about that. But understandably, there were some initial reservations about a cisgender white male telling such a story. However Kentridge alongside his team really pushed back against the narrative we’re told of the World Wars and beautifully brings voices to the voiceless...Action, historical accuracy, food for thought and entertainment all collide to make one epic kaleidoscopic masterpiece." Full Review

The Samsoned Historian

for a previous production "Trying to capture four years of conflict and the role of the carriers from across the African continent on both the African continent and the Western Front in 70 minutes would be a challenge for most. In all, one can only expect the essence to be conveyed and this was aptly done. Although I did wonder to what extent someone with limited knowledge of Africa’s involvement in the war would have been able to make connections." Full Review

Absorbing, Ambitious, Clever, Exquisite, Epic

See it if If you know who William Kentridge is - run until there's still tickets. It's an electrifying collage of imagery and ideas.

Don't see it if you don't know who Kentridge is, you probably won't enjoy it much. It's a theater of absurd.

Also This is the theater of absurd so usual measures are hardly applicable ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great staging, Relevant, Epic

See it if Grand scale of historical significance presented in multimedia. Armory is a fascinating backdrop in architecture and history.

Don't see it if Need to be spoon fed, you'll go hungry.

Ambitious, Epic, Great staging, Intelligent, Masterful

See it if you enjoy extravagant multi-media shows that convey their message without a conventional linear script.

Don't see it if you prefer conventional theater.

Great staging, Masterful, Profound

See it if You like experimental theater and story telling in non chronological order.

Don't see it if If you enjoy more conventional format.

Also Amazing staging and acting. Left me speechless.

Resonant, Intense, Masterful, Must see

See it if Gorgeous. Imagistic opera in 4+ languages, taking viewers on an intense trip of African porters during WWI. Almost 40 singers and musicians

Don't see it if Entry-level tickets are fairly expensive, but are there worth it? A definite yes.

Absorbing, Great staging, Intelligent, Riveting, Thought-provoking

See it if You want to see a piece about the rarely heard of role of Africans in WW1. It is performance art with singing, music, and shadow art.

Don't see it if You like a linear play. This is something completely different. So beautiful in its rendering of the suffering of the Africans in WW1.

Thought-provoking, Epic staging, Moving, Dreamlike

See it if You are open to multi-media pageants on a grand scale . The subject is Africa in WWI and the decimation of the native population.

Don't see it if It is not linear, it has no plot to speak of, it is very impressionistic and deals with war and oppression.

Also Another fever-dream of a production that fills the Park Avenue Armory ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great singing, Great staging, Masterful

See it if you want to see a unique multimedia piece about the overlooked role of Africans in WWI, with music, dance, projections and shadow play.

Don't see it if don't like edgy theater without a traditional structure.

Also It apparently has gained 20 minutes since London. At 90 minutes, it se... Read more Read less

Intense, Dizzying, Epic

See it if You must know what all the fuss is about You enjoy grand fragented spectacles like Robert Wilson or the Circus Art theater is ok by

Don't see it if You expect traditional drama with narrative and character, climax and denouement

Ambitious, Confusing, Epic

See it if Provides glimpses of an under reported history of WWI in Africa Great vocal performances and costume Clever visual effects

Don't see it if A bit disjointed and the seating staging relationship leaves you far from the action at times

Enchanting, Confusing

See it if Like a modern (projection, shadows, dance) opera (non-English singing/sounds) of all the unknown black bodies lost in WWI serving colonizers

Don't see it if No real plot, more about the feels. Some parts get artsy fartsy and long. Need good vision to see the warehouse-long stage.

Also Ticket with a discount from a friend who works there for $28.

Ambitious, Excruciating, Overrated

See it if If you want to see the work of William Kentridge.

Don't see it if If you want more than an accumulation of images and ideas that don’t cohere into any discernible story.

Also I like William Kentridge’s charcoal drawings and animation. The Head a... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Confusing, Indulgent

See it if See if you think Bowie's Lazarus was to simple.

Don't see it if You don't want to see a Talosin spin on a turntable for 3 minutes in background without explanation

Also Artist/playwright's father could tell a story. Apple rolled off a clif... Read more Read less

Cast & Creatives (33)