The actors and dancers are gathered around their colleague, to leave him to say: “These words that we’d wished to say to him”, quoting Mahmoud Darwich. Then he turns to the audience and addresses them: “ The enemy who drinks tea in our shack”, before one dancer slips out of the group to start the last scene and close the curtain on a play that carried the “helplessness and desperation” of people in war and under occupation to the European theaters.

Thus ends the play the tangible , that the well-known Belgian company tg STAN presented and travelled with around European theaters.

The play was presented in Norway, Portugal, Belgium and in different French cities, after being played in Théâtre la Bastille in Paris during two weeks, to end this tour in Antwerp (Belgium) where the last performance was presented on Saturday evening, the 18th of December 2010. It is likely that next year, the play will go on a tour in the Middle-East.

The point of departure in this performance is the situation of the Palestinians, but it puts forward an “artistic defense” for all people under occupation and in war, in a dialogue that goes along with the sensitivity of humanity and life, and that avoids directness and military war vocabulary.

Frank Vercruyssen, a Belgian actor and founding member of tg STAN that produced the play, said in an interview with the France Press Agency that presenting a performance on Palestine came “spontaneously and out of our political interest”, referring to previous plays of the company about the first and the second Gulf War and other political issues such as the spread of the extreme right party in Belgium or the human rights movement, “The Black Panthers”, in the USA.

But Vercruyssen confirms that, in the end, the play is “a global piece on loss and human despair”.

The play is based on the integration of two worlds that differ from one another on the sensitivity level, while sharing the same theme. On one hand, there are the quotations of the British author John Berger from his book “ From A to X ” (2008) that was dedicated to and in memory of the Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani. On the other hand, there are texts from Mahmoud Darwich, Mourid Barghouti, Samih Al-Qasem and Etel Adnan.

The starting point was the “fertility” of the Berger’s book as being the dramatic basis of the piece. This book consists in letters that Aïda sends to her imprisoned lover Xavier, who contents by leaving only brief remarks on the backs of the letters.

Thus, like the play-maker explains, were the backs of the letters a “fertile” space to make them carry texts from Arab writers, as if it were comments that the prisoner could say in response to the letters he received.

On stage, this dialogue was accurately reflected, as it was alternating between the main actor and actress. Without any direct contact, they were maintaining the presupposed distance between two pen friends, who are not brought together by a physical meeting, but by the emotions of the texts.

During all this, three dancers contribute to constructing this distance, but they build as well a bridge over it. They also add views of “a poetic world” to the turning dialogue, as the dance can be considered as a complement or an addition to the dialogue, while this open space is walled in by three large screens on which pictures of Beirut and the Occupied Palestinian territories are displayed.

The “universality” of the issue, which is weaved around the play, goes beyond the artistic concern only. It touches as well its elementary components, as the actors and dancers have many different nationalities.

The actors of the main roles in the piece changed as well, since they were played in the beginning by the Syrian actress Rojina Rahmoon and the Palestinian Eid Aziz. For several reasons they were replaced, and now the leading roles are played by the Iraqi Mokhallad Rasem, the Moroccan Boutaïna Elfekkak who resides in France and Eve-Chems De Brouwer, a French actress of Arabic origin. The others on stage, besides Vercruyssen, are the dancers Tale Dolven (Norway), Liz Kinoshita (Canada) and Federica Porello (Italy).

Tg STAN emphasizes in this play their style of working without a director and starting from the creativity of the workshop. This is also applied to the artistic design of the play, as the actors and dancers are dispersed on the sides of the stage. All of them, each at his turn, step forward as if they were on a building site, and each one of the workers adds what he wants.

To realize this piece, Vercruyssen and the dancers travelled to the Middle-East. The journey took them to Damascus, Beirut, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in an attempt to be in direct contact with the subject of the play and to feel it pulse.

The Italian dancer Federica Porello says that trip was “very necessary” to work on the dance scenes. She tells about her meetings with people of the Palestinian cities and hearing their stories : “There, I realized how many things I wouldn’t have known if I would have stayed here, because we don’t see these kind of stories on television and their impact is much bigger than if I would have read them in a book.”

The dancer points out that meeting these people allowed her to share the emotions of the others and to charge her body with these feelings: “Sometimes, I had the sense that the person that was telling me his story could be my brother or my cousin,” she says, “ as if we were sharing something.”

For the Iraqi actor Mokhallad Rasem, a refugee in Belgium, the subject of the play was an opportunity that gave him “the full freedom to openly express the heavy and painful feelings that I carry” as an Iraqi who experienced the war. He continues, noting that the issue of the piece doesn’t represent one particular country, but “everything that goes on in the Middle-East as for devastation”.

When the initiator of the play, Frank Vercruyssen, is asked about how they worked on the subject of occupation and war which they haven’t lived with, he says that he can only translate this question into one expression, which is “empathy”. For him, this means sharing the emotions and even the physical sensation with those who live in war and under occupation.

Vercruyssen states that “when the war is going on in Iraq or Palestine or Lebanon, I feel the same sense of helplessness and anger”, referring to it as being a personal concern, because the Western World that he belongs to “is responsible for these wars”.

AFP Arabic Desk, 19 December 2010

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