On “Where Things Reside”

February 16, 2011

During the Seminar that took place in Cairo, Jan2011, we went to see together the performance presentation of choreographer Marie Al Fajr in Egypt. This is a text that reflects on the performance, and what this project provokes.

Marie Al Fajr- Places of Residencies

Text by Adham Hafez

“What could be very interesting is that it is a French woman who is trying to examine contemporary dance through the body of an Egyptian dancer, and an Egyptian man who is trying to examine Baladi Dance through the body of a French dancer.” This was a key sentence repeated around during the rehearsals process of artist Marie Al Fajr, and during her public presentation in Cairo, of her miniature “Les Fleurs de Jardin” by audience members and certain collaborators. An excitement about this trans-cultural and somehow displaced exploration was present. Yet, what this proposes is a clear distinction between the aesthetics of Egyptian dance and that of western Contemporary dance. It also clearly proposes a distinction between Contemporary Egyptian dance, and Contemporary French dance. Or, perhaps it classifies all Egyptian dance as non-Contemporary, and all European or American dance as Contemporary. Witnessing the process of work between choreographer and dancer Marie Al Fajr, and Egyptian dancer Mohamed Fouad, one could witness initially a clear exploration of the other in the work studio to begin with. An exploration of “what could be done together”. An exploration that immediately seems to be the crux of such a process, an exploration that takes the form of improvised dance sequences, choreographed sequences, discussions, poetry readings, drawing, work with images of older miniatures, and more. A few more notes started to come to the surface during that work period, on ways of looking at one another and to the audience, when you dance this particular movement technique or the other one. And the inevitable question about the numeric value to “Love” or to the notion of the Other. While writing the score for the public presentation, score writing and improvisation as practices were confronted, this time from the perspective of Contemporary and Traditional, French and Egyptian, and all the aesthetics and political choices that impregnate and permeate those few terms. When you Baladi-dance you work within preexisting vocabularies that you relate to sound in certain manners based on the history of this relation; this relation of the sound to movement. With the case of Mohamed Fouad being distantiated from Baladi dance for several reasons such as masculine social constructs about mobilizing the pelvis while dancing, but also political decisions on what contemporaneity in dance is. With this being the case the taboo question finally emerged: “What is contemporary dance actually?” This question emerges with its other twin question of course: “What is traditional dance like nowadays?” But, who wants to answer those questions? The taboo question is apparently important, and apparently ever-emerging, yet, one dance scholar and head of a dance studies department at some important university in New Zealand once said “But, this is so 1940’s. We have looked upon this question, over and over, and have reached conclusions”. What I find even more attractive is that “we” still deal with the word “we” so generally. Things belong to a big group of people, who “together” agree, and “together” share history. This group of people, this “We”, has also reached a lot of conclusions about a lot of things. “We” all went through the same political changes, historical changes, aesthetical and conceptual ruptures, apparently! What about “them” then? The question of love and the other that this project deals with becomes more about “We” and “Them”. “Them” and not “they”. “We” is a category of uniformity, of global and universal aesthetics, values, perception modus operandi and presence in discourse. “Them” is a category that includes objects and subjects, and in-between cases that lurk in the echo of questions that were answered in the 1940’s, or before, or after. “Them” is a category of individuals who are never directly informed about the conclusions “We” made about “Them”, and therefore “Them” category perpetuates echoes of obolete questions. A community of echo? …………………

Audience seated almost all around the two dancers, Marie Al Fajr introduces her work in progress: Les Fleurs de Jardin, and insists on the fact that this is only one week of work, and that this is not a finished performance. This is potential, a presentation of potential, an unfinished piece, not-ready, still being worked on, still happening, and full of potential. This is what a presentation of such sorts inspires in audience’s thoughts. A very curious discussion with one journalist present at the public performance stated clearly thoughts like “I cannot write about potential, I can only write about finished pieces.” Critique writing could become obituary-like in that sense, if it is always happening postmortem. How could we write about improvisation when it is finished? In the intensity of dance that we witness from the two bodies on stage, one suddenly stops and thinks: This is an embodiment. Marie Al Fajr is not researching Egyptian dance, Marie embodied Egyptian dance, and is presenting her body to us. Mohammed Fouad embodied a certain ideology of Contemporary dance (ironically, his mentor was a French choreographer with articulate descriptions of what Contemporary dance in France exactly is, and why Egyptian dance cannot be considered Contemporary). The embodiment in this practice frees the subjects discussing the issue from the story of “We” and “Them” as categories of citizenships, and positions it within the realm of the body. It frees it from a nations spaces and their inhabitation, and places it within another space, a mirco-space, or a bodily space. “We” and “Them” are different states of physical presence and physical potency, latency, potential, practice… They are also signifiers of distances (or possible distances) between the extremities of bodies. They provoke a thought of position taken in space. They provoke thoughts about space. We are dealing then in this process with a space experiences. Where things are; this eventually seems to be what the exploration is dealing with. Places of residence of such processes of embodiment of the Other, of representing the Other, of physically understanding the relations between a country and an arm movement, or of something else. Where does Egyptian-ness reside in dance? In the aesthetics, the costume, the particular musicality, the clear relation to percussion interpretation, or in the content and subject matter? And what about French-ness? Where does it reside in dance? In its form, in the lines, in the subject matter and content or in the bodies dancing it themselves and how they feel? The corporeal reality itself of the dancers is where things reside? And, what about contemporaneity, does it reside in the substrata, or in the visible form of arms and legs moving in the air? Traditional Egyptian dance resides in the reciprocity of the gaze between dancer and audience, calculated mobility in-between social and stage personas/bodies while performing, or in holding a national flag and talking of some war? The exploration that takes place on stage between Marie Al Fajr moving around her strong interests in the Egyptian heritage of music and dance becomes a spatial exploration of places of residencies. The same micro-spatial investigation was the case with dancer Mohamed Fouad as he moves through expectations and desires of what he should do and what he wants to do and what he wants to never do. The work becomes a site-seeing (or site-kinesthetizing if such term usage is permissible). A danced physical response to invoking places visited, embodied, abandoned, or created within a body. A few danced places.

The title “Les Fleurs de Jardin” proposes a space, a garden. The hidden lovers garden in love poetry of an earlier period in history of Egypt and neighboring countries. This place that no longer exists, the garden for reflection, for love. This meeting place that does not exist, is proposed through a meeting, within a larger meetings-based project, to talk about an act of extreme meeting; the act of love, or the act of experiencing the other, or in certain cases embodying and carrying the others. It is no coincidence that the none existent “Rouda” is the place mentioned. The title provokes the longing to it, or references the myth of meeting and of truly conversing. It is not a coincidence either that “place” generally is present in the title, when the process was busy not with the Other and the encounter with the other, as much as it was be busy with the playground of events, with where things are.


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