In the middle of translation: dispersed actualities, complicities, and critical moments.

January 25, 2011

On January 15th the choreographers and directors presenting at the 2 B Continued Festival met with the choreographers who study in the Amsterdam Masters of Choreography for a public conversation on the works in the festival. An entire line-up of 12 people joined the stage for this discussion mediated and translated from Arabic to English and vice versa by Adham Hafez.

Of the four works presented two were based on writings by Eugène Ionesco: ‘Frenzy for Two or More’, directed by Yousra El Sharkawy and ‘Amédée or How to Get Rid of It’, directed by Ahmed Shawky. Both texts are not so often performed as other more famous texts like Rhinoceros, the Lesson, the Chairs. ‘Why Ionesco’, therefor was the first question from innocent outsiders not aware of the popularity of his writing in Egyptian theatre practice. According to Ahmed Shawky, the post-war France that Ionesco describes resonates with current realities of contemporary Egypt. This was the night of the Tunisian uprising that was not mentioned in the discussion. In both works however, it is striking how Ionesco presents a couple, a man and a woman in a domestic environment, fighting and bitching each other, who gradually have to confront an unknown evil of the bigger outside world that is creeping up on them. In one work this world expresses itself through hand grenades dropping into the house through windows that are demolished one by one. In the other work, an undeterminable blast shrinks the size of the house and seems to choke the couple however much they resist by pulling on useless cords, not knowing what direction is best to prevent a total collapse.

The two choreographies also presented predicaments of people confronting realities with no easy way out. ‘Exit does not Exit’, choreographed by Shaymaa Shoukry, is a work that includes real time digital video, responding to the patterns of the dancers in the choreography, representing through dots and lines the relations they make in time. Later on, the figures of the dancers are distorted by cutting and mirroring their figures endlessly through video manipulations. Finally the dancers start shooting the audience, by pointing their fingers and making shooting sounds. Then at each other, in an endless stream of destructive gestures that seem never however to achieve complete annihilation. ‘Galatea’s Twilight’, choreographed by Maha El Maraghy is inspired on the Pygmalion story of the sculptor falling in love with the object he has created himself, and cannot let go of it to leave it to lead its own life. Maha El Maraghy was inspired to make this work about the inequalities between the sexes from female castration practices. She wrote a text for the work to wake up the man, to tell him to watch out, to see her for what she is, to start to listen. To no avail, by the end of the choreography, Galatea, the object of the sculptor’s work, demolishes the entire scenography, systematically, every object one by one.

The question was posed how the expression of rage, the desire for change, is translated in the choreography. What is it that offers chances for the spectator to change their mind, if one can achieve such an aim? Does it happen by representing the facts, as given knowledge? How do these affect the audience, how can they lead to new perceptions? Maha’s answer was that she chooses to generalise the story, to make it a story about the treatment of women in general, about regressive movements in society at large. But that there is no one-sided answer of feminist righteousness. In the end there is complicity, there is no solution without the other.

This lead to a subsequent question: how does one translate ideas into choreography? How does one confront the need to present ideas in different frames when communicating about one’s work? How does one capture ideas, identities, that emerge in artistic practice? Is it possible to capture a ‘semblance’, something abstract from the dancing to transport it to a higher power? Shaymaa said she is weary of seeking explanation of artistic work, of risking draining the work of its power. For Ahmed translation was quite literal themes, which lead him eventually to start learning French. His piece was translated anew into Egyptian Arabic instead of Classical Arabic which produced entirely new readings of Ionesco and the work itself. Maha stated that what was initially proposed for her work ended up completely transformed by the end of the process. Ideas keep being mobile in the creative process, in the middle of translation as it were, always in process.

Diego Gil posed a question about what he called the critical point. When does a work lead to a dead end. Like shooting the crowd. Like ruining the entire set. Then a critical moment is presented where the piece cannot go any further. Both works however chose to insist on this moment. Diego called it ‘shaking’ the idea until something might emerge that could break the rules of the composition. Perhaps creating new fault-lines of perception, in the middle of translation.
For a review of the works see:


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