Fifth 2B Continued festival spotlights Egypt’s promising performing arts scene

Sara Elkamel, Tuesday 21 Jan 2014

The fifth edition of the 2B Continued festival brought strong dance and theatre performances to the Falaki Theatre this January

"Triangles Are My Favourite Shape" (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)
"Triangles Are My Favourite Shape" (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

For three consecutive nights in January, four small-size dance and theatre troupes transformed the Falaki theatre in downtown Cairo into a gleaming terrain for powerful performances.

The festival took place over three nights, 16, 18, and 19 January, with four performances - two dance pieces and two theatre plays - running on each day: “A Room Filled with Smoke,” “What’s Left…,” “Mirror” and "Triangles Are My Favourite Shape."

The performances, which tackled themes ranging from suicide to oppressive gender roles to power dynamics to the dehumanized state of contemporary society, managed to churn up laughter from the audience at times and transfix them with discomfort at others.

2B Continued, the brainchild of Studio Emad Eddin’s director of workshops and residencies Nevine El Ibiary, acts as an incubator for emerging artists. Now in its fifth year, the festival continues to challenge and support up and coming performance companies.

The laboratory is meant to act as a bridge from the amateur to the professional world by providing training and a space for practical application. It enables participating artists to acquire skills and insights and then put them on stage with support by grants.

In this year’s lab, the young artists were privy to the mentorship of experienced figures in the field of performing arts. They were offered expertise from Ahmed El-Attar, Studio Emad Eddin founder, theatre director and playwright; founder of Homma for Contemporary Dance Mohamed Shafik; Lebanese set designer, artist, and art director Hussein Baydoun; Hussein Sami, and Paul Geday.

While the previous four editions featured productions that were based on published texts, extracts from plays or excerpts from scripts, this year’s four performances were all original, written by the workshop participant.

Given that the young directors and choreographers were forced to work within strict boundaries, including time and budget limitations, one would not expect the resulting performances to be delivered with such flair. The project, however, culminated in two contemporary dance performances and two theatre performances that were refined, featuring strong dancing and acting as well as sophisticated scenography and attention to detail.

"A Room Filled with Smoke" (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)
"A Room Filled with Smoke" (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

The opening night, Thursday 16 January, lured a full house to the theatre.

The evening kicked off with “A Room Filled with Smoke,” a dance performance choreographed by Mounir Said. Against richly intricate scenography by Maha Fahmy, the two dancers rose to the punishing task of carrying out a routine about suicide. The dancers, moving with vigor, seemed to represent two manifestations of a single person. The routine captured the frustrations that envelope some of us, driving us close to madness and self-destruction. The dancers repeatedly hurled themselves onto the floor never fearing (or so it seemed) that they would drive a hole in the stage. When they would indeed hit the ground with a thud, clouds of chalk would erupt- merely one element of the piece’s graceful and sophisticated mise-en-scène.

Choreographer Mounir Said, who participated in the second and third editions of the 2B Continued Festival as a dancer with Shaimaa Shokry, says he is mainly influenced by the street, and searches for ways to adapt its details and dynamics for stage. Here, he adapted the pain and depression for this piece, which was perhaps too long, yet effective overall.

"What's Left..." (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

The second dance piece, dubbed “What’s Left…” was choreographed by 24-year-old dancer and actor Mohamed El Deeb. The piece was raw and aggressive, confronting the gruesome dynamics of human relationships in contemporary society. The choreography stems from El Deeb’s view that “we are losing our sense of humanity through corruption, we are letting go of our decency and becoming animals.”

The performance consisted of two male dancers, alternating roles as man and dog, a woman in a crimson dress and a…baby. Although not particularly (or not at all) a cumbersome element, the baby was awkward on stage. With loud music and violent movements, the choreographer set out to make the audience feel uncomfortable, and in that he succeeded.

"Mirror" (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)
"Mirror" (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

A much less intense performance was the play “Mirror,” written and directed by Yasmine Emam. It takes place in the bedroom of a girl getting ready to attend her cousin's engagement party, dazed with despair for losing him to someone else. She rummages through her closet for something to wear – which is designed here as strings of clothes dangling from the ceiling, ending up in piles of multi-colored fabric that she sometimes uses as a chair- and is reminded of the wardrobe expectations in Egyptian society, that favor conservatism over style.

“Mirror” is essentially one long monologue in which the girl confronts the conflicting social pressures that pervade contemporary society.

While the rest of the performances carried a potent surrealistic air, this one was much more relatable and down-to-earth. The multi-talented Yasmine Emam says she found inspiration in daily experiences, collecting snippets or emotions that she ends up harnessing in a scene or line. This shined through in the personal nature of the performance. The play employs banal, everyday act of getting dressed, to tackle larger, more existential questions of love, relationships, gender dynamics and social expectations.

While “Mirror” is the harrowing portrait of oppression the way it's structured and presented, the play keeps the audience amused throughout.

Mirror's themes can seem creakily recycled, however, and the performance was reminiscent of the Bussy Monologues- a performance based on stories of Egyptian women. Yet the stellar acting by Zeinab Garieb, the poignant, witty writing by Yasmine Emam and the set design by Yasmine Hamdy render this piece striking regardless of the originality of its theme.

"Triangles Are My Favourite Shape" (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)
"Triangles Are My Favourite Shape" (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

The festival’s pièce de résistance was “Triangles Are My Favorite Shape.” The play, written by Seif Abdel Salam and Lara El Gebaly and directed by Abdel Salam, explores the power dynamics that emerge in the shadows of confinement.

“Triangles,” unfolds in an abstract place, that could be a prison or a mental asylum, in which a shrill, peevish woman and her meek understudy set out to torture a defiant man, Nasr. It is a constellation that delivers as much discomfort as it does entertainment.

Set within a stifling environment, the narrative touches upon themes of authority, free choice, repression and resistance. On the one hand, there is a palpable tension between characters; on the other hand, the narrative drew frequent laughter from the crowd.

The four performances were loaded with social commentary, and chose to deal with ominous themes. Given the intensity of each performance–some were emotionally draining–it could have been better for them to be spread out instead of being lined up in a single day. Still, viewing the outcome of the 2B Continued laboratory in a single sitting enabled audiences to view the full effect of the project. The fifth edition of the festival showcased strong and poignant performances that were well developed, and that bodes well for the future of performing arts in Egypt.

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