For those who come across the title and the accompanying blurb, A (Micro) History of World Economics, Danced may seem like a play that weaves philosophical excerpts and a fifty-person choreography into a one-hour plus piece that explores the recent economic meltdown.
For Pascal Rambert, the play’s director and choreographer, the performance is about a state of utopia.
“It’s to show that art can achieve what can’t be achieved through politics,” he told Ahram Online on the sidelines of a rehearsal last week.
A (Micro) History of World Economics, Danced will be staged at the Falaki Theatre on 19 March during the opening of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival’s fourth edition, and again at the GrEEK Campus on Friday 20 March.
In each city the play was performed, Rambert gathered non-professionals for a series of body workshops and writing exercises. He asks participants to reflect on the effect of the current state of the global economy on their day-to-day lives.
The stories and the resulting movements are then stitched to the chief storyline of the play, a script Rambert started developing in 2008 and has since been showcased in Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Hamburg and Tokyo, among others.
“This play is about people... It’s about people who don’t know how to write and read,” said Rambert.
At the start, he worked with a group of people from the outskirts of Paris, around Théâtre de Gennevilliers where he has been director since 2007.
He refers to them as “balady people,” using the Arabic word 'balady' in reference to people from the countryside. However, the term also implies natives- authentic people of tradition- who often live in low-income neighborhoods.
When asked what he means by balady, he said: “You know, balady… not like you and me.”
In 2008, Europeans didn’t feel the direct effect of the crisis, Rambert explained, but they knew that there was a crisis and it was soon going to cross the sea. “It was all anyone talked about.”
“Now that I have done this show almost all over the world, things haven’t really changed. Not at all actually,” Rambert tells Ahram Online.
This will be the 14th run of A (Micro) History of World Economics, which has so far amassed over 700 participants as supporting cast.
During the research phase, Rambert travelled through economic history and chose certain moments that he saw as relevant to the economic mess that swept over the market at the time.
This research took him to a 17th century London coffee shop where Edward Lloyd greeted sailors and merchants with the latest shipping news. Gradually, risk-taking became the centre of conversation, and the casual meet up gave birth to Lloyd’s Coffee Shop, the first insurance market on London’s Tower St.
“These are all historical moments that when explored can give us insight into the reasons behind the current crisis,” explained assistant director Hani Sami.
From central London to Tonga in the South Pacific, the chapters that make up this play each bring to the stage a range of historical moments. The stories are weaved together by movements, choreographed by Rambert and performed by a group of 50 participants.
Being a dancer is no prerequisite. The choreography relies on exaggerating time and space, according to Rambert.
“Many people may not get the philosophical part of the show, but that’s not really the point. This show is about human interaction.”
Rehearsal – part I
Shaza Aly and Sohaila El Teeby are sat down in one corner of the stage, scripts tightly in hand. Across from them, Asmaa Azouz is walking up and down, shifting between rehearsing her movements and bouts of stretching.
A few minutes later, Tarek Deweiry takes to the stage, reading aloud the philosophies of Adam Smith. Nourhan Khaled is absent that day, so Rambert jumps on stage to substitute for her.
Together, Aly, El Teeby, Azouz, Deweiry and Khaled make up the main cast of the Cairo edition of A (Micro) History of World Economics, Danced.
The rest of the crew walks into the theatre sporadically across the coming half hour.
“I think that an experience that brings together a big number of people, both professional and non-professional is different and very interesting,” Shaker Said, one of the 50 participants, told Ahram Online during the break.
“There’s a lot happening…. But I think some of the text read out, the philosophical aspect of the story, is a bit too heavy,” Said added, explaining that the average audience member may not be interested in knowing all the details in the script.
Rambert maintains that in each city he’s worked in, the stories brought in by the group of participants is what gives each performance its flavor. The skeleton is there, and making the entire production relatable comes organically.
The rehearsal – part II
The music is on. Hossam Abdel Hamid (Sonic) is leading the warm up.
Fifty people, from across age groups, take to the stage. First they walk slowly, then they speed, abruptly shifting directions.
“Walk in every corner. Don’t leave gaps and don’t stick to one another,” screamed Rambert in French. The instructions are instantly translated by Sami, his assistant.
Three languages are being used to direct the actors in an oddly constructive cacophony. Rambert gives guidance in both French and English. Sami translates this to Arabic, then moves back to French as he addresses Rambert.
At one point, the participants are ushered to a standstill. They are now in the confines of their home, each on their own, and it’s as if we (the audience) are peaking into their lives through a window.
A sequence of mimed movements ensues: a couple are brushing their teeth, a woman is peeling vegetables in her kitchen, a young woman is struggling to get out of bed, a man is making falafel sandwiches and young boy is pensively attending to his homework.
In his exploration of global economy, Rambert sheds light on the basic economic unit: the household.
“Tonight there is air between every single body. This is perfect… wonderful. I love you all,” Rambert told the cast in English.
Check the festival's program here.
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