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You’ve probably heard the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht ballad “Mack the Knife” before. But you haven’t heard it like this.

The signature tune from “Threepenny Opera” is backed by a thrumming electric guitar, and an African woman sings the German lyrics starkly, almost mournfully, like a dirge. It ain’t the usual jaunty ode to a ruthless criminal, that’s for sure.

That number is one of many surprises in the international performance piece “Baron Samedi,” which plays at On the Boards through Sunday. Parisian choreographer-director Alain Buffard (who died last year) and his commanding ensemble of dancer-singer-actors from the U.S., France, Rwanda, South Africa and the Ivory Coast have infused Weill’s songbook with the dark magic of voodoo and the tormented spirits of alienated refugees and expats seeking new identities.

The hourlong work, which takes place on, over and behind a marvelous mini-ski slope of a set, is often raw and rude, and it can get pretentiously obscure. But you come away with potent images — a man in a slinky gown with a scarf hiding his face, singing a broken Billie Holiday blues; a top-hated slave master and death spirit (the Haitian voodoo figure Baron Samedi). And there are stunning appropriations of Weill songs, including an almost scary (and very apropos) version of “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” from the musical “One Touch of Venus.”

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Misha Berson:

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