MAAT Kicks Off: Las Bernardas Contemporary Dance At Cairo’s Falaki Theatre
The program also featured two performances from Karima Mansour.
Between May 10 and 15, Falaki Theatre hosted MAAT Kicks Off, a program of three contemporary dance performances featuring graduates of Cairo Contemporary Dance Company’s professional training program.
MAAT Contemporary Dance Company was founded in Cairo by artist and choreographer Karima Mansour in 1999, and is now being reintroduced in a new format that expands its scope.
The performances included group performance Credo, choreographed by Mansour; Who Said Anything About Dance?, a solo performance also by her and Las Bernardas by Libertad Pozo.
All three were very different in their subject matter, and as they were staged in pairs over the course of six days, allowed the audiences to form unique connections as one show colors their perception of another.
On Sunday, May 13, Las Bernardas and Credo were staged consecutively.
The Dutch director of Las Bernardas, Libertad Pozo took inspiration from a work by Spanish writer Frederico Garcia Lorca tilted La Casa De Bernarda Loca to create a powerful, poignant, and sensitive dance piece centered on five women.
The piece explores the relationships of the subjects of Garcia’s book, especially the interrelationships between the sisters who are living together in a period of mourning that lasts several years.
In the pamphlet, the piece is described as a “dramaturgy in the form of a collage,” bringing together moments and anecdotes derived from the “daily experience of the performers and their own body language.”
The hour-long performance played out like a family saga told in both small and grand movements.
The piece features Amany Atef, Marihan Samy Mona El-Husseini, Nermin Habib and musician Balqeis Riad, who performed the soundtrack live in her station downstage.
With electric oud, synthesizer, and drum machine, her music was as much a character as the other four sisters with which Balqeis shared the stage.
And she was acknowledged as such in certain parts of the performance. But her music takes a role similar to that of a narrator, witnessing from above, commenting in her own language but untouched by the drama.
Las Bernardas borrows elements from theatre, including the set and the way the women communicate. A dining table is set up mid-stage, around which much of the dance is performed, whether the performers are seated or moving around it.
The dance piece blends many means of communication to tell its story in many different spoken languages: Spanish, English, Arabic, as well as different artistic languages: movement, music, and a monologue delivered by Amany Atef that breaks the fourth wall.
Part of the choreography was comprised of small gestures, like a sign language between the characters that seems familiar but foreign to us.
This was in contrast to bigger, impassioned movements performed as solos or in pairs, communicating a range of emotions from restraint and tension to emancipation.
Part of a bigger picture
While Las Bernardas had a storytelling element as it delved into the tensions of human relationships, Credo was more abstract and tackled existential themes as it looked at the person’s role and place within a society.
Credo asks the question, “What does it mean for a person to switch off and refuse to perform a mechanical role, like an error in a machine that will produce faults all the way down the production line?”
The performance begins with the ten dancers joining the stage with their unique individual movements, each in their own space and at their own pace. Then slowly, they all blend into one unit, in which their rhythmic mechanical motion is unified.
Throughout the dance piece, they explore their relationship with this unity, or this ritual they have created together.
The performance triggers thoughts on comfort zones that become familiar with their monotonous repetition and the disorientation that can occur when we try to transcend it.
Loosely linked to this theme of questioning identity in Credo, in the third performance within the MAAT program, Mansour’s solo Who Said Anything about Dance? reflects on the role of the artist and the artist’s identity.
According to the piece’s synopsis, Mansour seeks to delve into the creative process, questions the expectations that are placed upon her as the creator and ultimately questions the role of art itself.
This article originally appeared in English Ahram on May 21, 2018, and has been reposted with permission.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.