The TransDance festival continues to push boundaries, be they artistic restrictions or other people’s perceptions, in their events. The conversational interviews with choreographers during Open Your Bags, Please are a perfect example of how the organisers are committed to lowering the threshold for the Cairo audience.
“TransDance is really a conversational platform,” said Adham Hafez, the festival’s director. “It is not meant to come and throw things on people’s tables, it is meant to invite people to ‘build the table’ together first, to then perhaps sit around it, eat, talk or perform. That is why I insisted that the programme started with Igor Dobricic’s Table Talks as a literal example to this metaphor.”
Open Your Bags, Please is a series of interviews where the audience is invited to participate and ask the choreographers anything they would like to know, “even if it is as simple as ‘why did you wear that costume in your last show?'” said Hafez. “We want to open the artistic practices of choreographers to a bigger public and perhaps such simple questions are truly necessary to make audiences feel that ‘dance is ours [the artists] and theirs [the audience]’ and not just an elite practice that is so inaccessible that one cannot even talk to its makers.”
Hafez selected performers from polarising or surprising performances during the festival for Open Your Bags, Please, “whether a ‘radio dance’ or a solo with more than one dancer.” It is the best strategy to reveal their thinking to the audience, as well as find ways to build an interested and informed audience for those very special presentations.”
Over the two days of the event, Egyptian choreographers Mohamed Shafik and Mirette Michel, as well as French dancer and choreographer Marie Al Fajr share their views and experiences.
Marie Al Fajr works and lives between Paris and Cairo and has studied classical Arabic, poetry and history. She studied dance with several leading Egyptian dancers, such as Suraya Hilal. Al Fajr works with Egyptian dance, creating contemporary dance performances that use interesting aesthetics to be politically challenging, rather than just offering banal political messages. Her work has been presented widely in Europe, and her latest production was selected for the Marseilles Cultural Capital of Europe 2013 celebrations.
When asked if her dance performances are seen as French in France, Al Fajr said, “my dance is not French enough for sure and I do not try to make it French or French enough, whatever ‘French’ actually means now. My dance is Egyptian and is contemporary, and that is because of my life, my education, my references and because of the contemporary dancers and composers from Egypt that I have and continue to work with. Identities can be very fluid, it is not merely an issue of a flag, it is more complex than that.”
Al Fajr said she is very much influenced by the Arabic language. “I am very influenced by Ibn Arabi’s work, an Andalusian philosopher who lived in Spain, and this is an interesting and fluid identity situation too. His treatise on love, and the different states of love and moments of change that he describes are very much rooted in both movement and language. In Arabic the word for breath is nafas, self is nafs, myself is nafsi and the soul is al- nafs. I researched physically how those words are related and how breathing somehow starts or causes undulations. From there we can go into spiraling, and how this can go into opening up and into love, hobb. Which can lead to seeing love as a growing seed, habb, and if breath encapsulates the body, [the seeds, habba], we must peel the body to be able to let the seed germinate and for love to grow, hobb/habba. I could not but see the physical connections between the movement, the words, the metaphors, and the history of words.”
Hafez said that the audience had more questions and comments than the interviewer had prepared, which made Open Your Bags, Please the interactive event that the organisers had hoped and strived for.