Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1388, (5 - 11 April 2018)
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1388, (5 - 11 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Winds of change

Rania Khallaf is impressed with D-CAF

Winds of change

A new round of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF, 8-29 March) closed last week, bringing a delightfully busy time to a close. Sponsored by the widest range of local and international patrons from the British Council, UNESCO, the Institut Francais Egypte and even Anghami, the festival featured the French monodrama Alors est-ce que la? by Clementine Baert at the AUC Falaki Theatre. Dressed in black, Baert — an abandoned loved one — stands centre stage to explain and discuss the sudden disappearance of a man (it is unclear whether he is a lover, a husband, a father or even brother). 

It is a brilliant text, moving deftly from the personal and the private to the collective and universal. Doubt, fear and distress come through in her low voice, which rises at strategic moments. With her thoughts drifting between imagination and reality, the woman presents a powerful image of existential solitude, and the inevitably thwarted need for another. One of the stronger parts of the show is a supposed journey in search of the man’s corpse in the graveyard, during which she wonders for how long his watch might keep ticking and what the time difference might be between earth and space. Attraction and repulsion lead to meditations on black holes and stardust... Simultaneous translation burdened the show somewhat, but it did not overshadow Baert’s impressive acting. Baert completed her studies at L’ecole Regionale d’Acteurs de Cannes; and she first performed Alors est-ce que la? at the Festival Artdanthe in 2015.


Winds of change

Nearby on the Greek Campus stage, a jazz concert by Lebanese pianist Tarek Yamani, who performed songs by Fairouz and Sayed Darwish and closed with dabke, attracted a huge audience but failed to deliver the expected sense of joy. More interesting was Ahmed Al-Attar’s play Before the Revolution, which went through a battle with the Censorship Authority before it was allowed to be seen for three sold out nights at the Rawabet Theatre. Standing on a kind of bed of nails, a man and a woman, middle-aged, discuss the political, economic and social circumstances that led to the 25 January Revolution. They cite the sinking of the Salam Ferry, terrorist attacks on tourists, rising rates of divorce, ending with the All Saints Cathedral explosion on 1 January 2011 in Alexandria. 


Winds of change

Relying mostly on facial expressions, the two actors, Nanda Mohamed and Ramsi Lehner, deliver a fast and furious litany: “Sick of orders? Sick of violence? Sick of the police, sick of your boss...” Mixing and intercutting between different kinds of popular and everyday discourse from the period — Salafi sermons, newspaper reports and Ultras songs, for example — the play makes excellent use of irony and sarcasm, suffering from a dry, newscaster-like tone in the documentary parts. Hassan Khan’s rhythmic music reflected the mood very effectively, slowing and speeding up as the content changed to match. Al-Attar is the founder of D-CAF and the founding director of the Temple independent theatre company, which produced some of independent theatre’s landmarks: Life is Beautiful (2000), Mother I Want to Be a Millionaire (2005) and On the Importance of Being an Arab (2009). He also manages the Studio Emadeddin art space downtown.

Equally interesting at the Rawabet Theatre was Here I Am, a Palestine-Iraq-UK coproduction written by Hassan Abdel-Razeq and directed by Zoe Laffert. The festival ended with Tarab, a contemporary dance show from Switzerland by Nicolas Cantillon and Laurence Yadi, produced by Compagnie 7273, which has received tour grants from Cairo Pro Helvetia and the National Centre for Dance, France. Preceding the performance at the AUC Falaki Theatre was a short documentary on the two dancers’ journey to Cairo in 2012, when fascinated by the sounds and sights of the city they determined to explore the word tarab — a term for the kind of enchantment that results from listening to music — both musically and choreographically. 

Nine dancers dressed casually attempt to embody Cairo in motion — the hustle and bustle, the chaos, the spirit — twisting and turning in twos and threes or all together, then separating. With movements alternating between Oriental dance and disco, they reflect the variety and fullness of Cairo’s nightlife. With music that attempts (not very successfully) to mimic Oriental improvisation by Jacques Mantica, they are both flexible and self-possessed. Intuitive, visceral and more female than male — seven women to two men dancers — tarab comes across as a necessary experience, and a force to be reckoned with.

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