Despite the extensive negative reports regarding organization and participating works, three delightful performances managed to standout in the second week of the 20th Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theater: the Circle Troupe of Syria’s “The Little Red Riding Hood, the National Theater of China’s “Legend of a Hero and Mute Comp Physical Theater of Denmarks’ “Grasping the floor with the back of my head.
“The Little Red Riding Hood begins as an experimental send-up of the classic Brothers’ Grimm fairytale. While satirical productions of the famous fairytale are hardly new on an international scale, Basem Isa’s direction coupled with renowned playwright Fares Dahaby’s script made for a truly inventive work.
The show centers on the coming of age of its adorable, bratty protagonist Leila – brilliantly played by Rama Isa. With mercurial intelligence, wit and movement, Isa shows the maneuvers of a playful (read also manipulative) young woman seeking a suitor. When her love turns out to be a wolf (named “Diba, the Arabic word for fox) she must confront why, what and who she is really afraid of.
A hilarious commentary on the Middle Eastern family, all of the Leila’s relatives appear in well integrated video form. Seamlessly, the two live performers interact with footage of mother, brother and vulnerable grandmother presented on a flat screen. One hysterical scene takes place under the direction of collaborator and filmmaker Omar Hamarneh’s interlude. A play within the play, the short film is a riotous segment in which Omar and Rama play a couple ironing out their own relationship while the theatrical relationship of Leila and the Wolf lies in discord.
The National Theater of China departs starkly from the scrappy multi-media presentation that has become emblematic of post modern theater with an artful showcase of Chinese design. A deft fusion of self reflexive monologue on par with “The Little Red, “Legend of a Hero transcends mere avant-garde by fusing highly classical Far Eastern aesthetic gestures into the story.
When delicate female protagonist Yi enters the stage, she speaks with the high pitched tone of a traditional performance of Chinese Opera. When time has come for battle, the stage becomes swathed with Jade swords, period costume and the strumming of an ancient Chinese harp.
“Legend of a Hero departs from its ancestral traditional only to reflect on the contemporary messages that underlie the exquisite production – a call for peace over victory, and a commentary on the way that history is rewritten by historians to serve their own purpose.
Indeed, the protagonist privately addresses the audience as “my future historians. The production is artfully accompanied by English subtitles, bringing English speakers deeper into the experience. Non-English speakers in the audience were not disappointed as well: the show’s lavish set, virtuosic movement, compelling music and brilliant integration of video into classic presentation provided an event at Al Gomhorreya Theater that surpassed any spoken words.
Last but not least, “Grasping the Floor in the Back of My Head achieves transcendence with fusion of folkloric and post modern elements.
Mute Comp Physical Theater joined forces with musical group Valravn to create a multi-media super-spectacle. Choreographers Jacob Stage and Kasper Ravnhoj graced the stage with stunning improvisational movement that rose and swelled with the intensity of Cirque du Soleil. The signature of the piece was a compelling integration of text, music and movement. Men advanced the stage holding traditional Nordic instruments. Dancers chanted poetic text with the enthusiasm of the violent singers.
A notable aspect of the performance was one particular company member who happened to be a dwarf. I say “happened to be because of the way that her strong, tight movement soon eclipsed her size. An intelligent actress and striking improviser on par with the company, this particular performer emphasized my perceptions of scale in visual presentation.
Coincidentally, this was the second presentation I’d encountered at the Experimental Festival that featured a “little person. American pioneer Lee Bruer was on site with a compelling lecture on his current production of Ibsens’ “Dollhouse, a towering work that features with an all-male cast by actors under four feet tall.
Festival writer Hazem Azmy has called the international jury and presenters at this year’s festival a “hidden treasure.