November 15, 2019

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  • The opposite of hope pervades 2 B Continued fest

    Scene from “Triangles are My Favorite Shapes” written and directed by Seif Abdel Salaam. (Photo courtesy Mostafa Abdel Aty)

    BY DALIA BASIOUNY Cairo – In it’s fifth edition the plays and dance pieces presented at the 2 Be Continued Theatre and Contemporary Dance laboratory festival at Falaky Theatre last week appeared to be unrelated, but in fact they all shared a common thread of defeat, suffering, control, and futility.

    The evening starts with “A Room Filled with Smoke” choreographed by Mounir Said. This two-person dance piece is beautifully executed in a very well-designed set. Grey colors, scattered clothes, and unfinished wall paint create an ominous impression that is deepened by the eerie music performed live on stage. This murky atmosphere is further established using white powder onstage, which intensifies the gloomy feel while enabling the dancers to do a wider range of sliding movements.

    In the first part of “Smoke”, the two characters (performed by the choreographer Mounir Said and dancer Mohamed Anno) live parallel lives on either side of the stage.  Each of them is isolated in his suffering, unaware of the other as they miss several chances for them to meet.

    In the second part of the piece, the two merge into one creature with strange characteristics, but the suffering continues. At the end they separate, Said hangs himself, then Anno slowly follows suit. The reason behind their anguish and desperation is not clearly presented, only their suffering and demise.

    The second performance “Mirror” is a short play by new playwright and director Yasmine Emam. It starts with a more upbeat energy; a young woman is trying on clothes from ceiling high cone-shaped piles surrounding her. She is repeating things she is told about how women’s bodies need to be dressed to be respected.

    The woman struggles with wearing layers of clothes to cover her body, as she repeats layers of opinions that represent her society’s ideals; her mother, her father, her cousin and the religious authorities. After a while it becomes harder to distinguish the voices from each other and even from her own.

    She regurgitates her mother’s references to her as a piece of meat that needs to be covered: “Who would buy an exposed piece of meat that attracts the flies?” The young woman struggles with that concept, then finds a more appealing metaphor comparing herself to a piece of chocolate, that still needs to be covered. In both cases the woman is objectified, her body compared to food that must be well presented for consumption.

    The basic premise of this piece is that society dictates Egyptian women Egyptian women’s appearance, behavior and expectations. Emam, however, fails to walk the thin line between exposing an issue and reinforcing it by presenting it as acceptable, or as the status quo.

    Her protagonist’s main concern is the kind of veil she needs to cover her head in and how much weight should she gain or lose to please a potential suitor. To enforce this stunted image of women, Emam uses some popular songs to hammer these ideas even further. “I am at your beck and call”, “Since I met you I became what you want me to be.”

    Actress Zainab Ghareeb tried her best to make emotional sense of a text with no arch. She resorted to comedy, while wearing layers of clothes on top of each other, and tried to sing the song with a tongue in cheek attitude. But these attempts did not save the sloppy writing from its thematic trap.

    The main idea of this performance remained unshakably clear. Young women have no say about their lives. They are at the whim of any man who may propose to them; that’s the purpose of their lives, and if they don’t get it they are broken.

    It’s hard to believe that this play is written in post-revolutionary Egypt, where thousands of young women marched and led protests and organized sit-ins and some even spent time in detention in their attempt to shape a better future for their country. What makes this an even greater paradox is the location of the performance at the Falaki Theatre, off Mohamed Mahmoud Street, which witnessed battles for freedom by young women alongside men, defending their right to a free country.

    The third offering “Triangles are My Favorite Shapes” is a short play with only three characters written and directed by Seif Abdel Salaam. It’s an exploration of confinement, domination, and control. Abdel Salaam says that his performance “seeks to deconstruct the resistance, nihilism and self-loathing that are spawned by a stifling environment.”

    The three characters form a psychological triangle reflected in the elevated platforms set, creating a physical triangle of three separate spaces. Each of the characters has a location and their movement into the other person’s space is calculated and poignant.

    The text alludes to Sartre’s “No Exit”. But unlike the classical existential play, the plot line of Abdel Salaam’s play is vague, the dialogue is not tight, and it is hard to pin down the motivations of the characters. What saves this ambiguous piece of writing are the actors. Hadeel Hany’s subtle gestures and great sense of timing were impeccable, adding humor and panache to the performance, while Ahmad Al Achrafi’s ease and nonchalance made the ambiguous text more accessible.

    Seif Abdel Salaam proved himself as a strong director able to guide his actors, creating a tight performance, but as a writer he still has a long road ahead.

    The final performance was Mohamed El Deeb’s dance piece “What is Left….” El Deeb earned his spot in this year’s festival after winning the 2013 competition “Make Your Move” for young Egyptian choreographers.

    “What is Left…” was the most disturbing piece of the evening. It used intense metal music, blaring lights, and very aggressive stage fights between two men, while a woman cuddles and feeds a live baby on stage.

    The contrast between the violent men on the one hand and the loving mother and child on the other slowly dissolves as the woman begins to slap one man continuously as they move across the stage. At the end they embrace with the child between them, while the other man lies defeated on the ground, with many old TV sets lighting the stage behind them.

    If the piece creators use the baby to refer to the future, they are inferring that children will inherit a world full of violence, struggle, strife, glaring screens and industrial waste that exude apocalypse.

    The four performances of 2 B Continued festival this year shared a strong propensity toward despair, dejection and nihilism. None of them had glimpses of joie de vivre, or sparks of hope in the future. If the fifth festival chooses a thematic title, it could be “The Opposite of Hope.”

    Yet, the performances were very warmly received, with the audience’s excitement and energy celebrating the work of the young artists in stark contrast with the bleak energy of the performances themselves.

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