Upon reading the title 'Violence Lointaine' (Distant Violence) — part of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF) programme
— one is not necessarily inclined to make it all the way to Talee’a (Al-Talia meaning avant-garde)
Theatre in Attaba. "Why would I go see a performance about violence when I am surrounded by it in Egypt, where bombings and violent dispersals leave hundreds dead, let alone the everyday harassment and struggle that infuses Cairo’s dusty streets?” These thoughts crossed my mind.
However, artists Omar Ghayatt (Egypt), DeLaVallet Bidiefono (Congo) and Maxime Denuc (France) manage to present an alternative side to violence through their audio-visual dance piece. Through movement, sound and minimal text, 'Violence Lointaine' transcends the cliches associated with the concept of violence and allows the audience to experience “violence” in an entirely novel way. Through exploring the violence we don’t seem to notice, the creators strive to find beauty in a new aesthetic concept.
The 60-minute performance takes us to the morning after a party, as we find a messy floor, filled with confetti, empty bottles, and chairs and other objects thrown around. Denuc, a composer, electronic musician and sound artist, disseminates loud sounds and the three performers start running back and forth on the stage, until one by one they fall. Contemporary dancer Bidiefono is the last one to drop to the floor.
The performance then goes on to show the audience glimpses of the party we seem to have missed. The three artists use dance, a reading of the constitution with a muffled microphone, a gradual invasive sound, and other methods to invite the audience to find their own interpretations of violence.
"Violence is aesthetically beautiful," Ghayatt explained to Ahram Online after one of the dress rehearsals. In a small yard outside the theatre the invasive sounds from Attaba market murmured loudly in the background. "You reach aesthetics if you exclude the negative side of violence or its results," he clarified quickly.
'Violence Lointaine' is a point of departure for a collaborative project between three artists who came together through a programme hosted by the French Institute in Brazzaville. The artists decided to work on the theme of “distant violence” as they sat in a protected French compound in the Congo while civil war raged a few hundred metres outside.
When working on the play, the creators had in mind Western audiences, which consist of viewers to whom violence can seem very far and whose only relation with it is manifested through watching and listening to the news or seeing action films. The artists wanted to explore those minds and reveal that, in fact, distant violence hits extremely close to home.
In the scenes where the artists run back and forth, they dissect the competitiveness of the capitalist system dominating most Western societies. For the artists, this exhaustion of the body through the simple act of running is an act of violence, an act that is only stopped on stage when — without being tied to a specific agreed upon timeframe — they simply feel too exhausted to continue running.
"We use running as a metaphor for the ongoing human struggle," Ghayatt explains. This struggle is not only on the societal level, as "violence on the state level is rooted in competition, in a struggle to be the most powerful, in a struggle to control," he continues.
In another scene where Ghayatt runs from side to side and Bidiefono dances on stage, Ghayatt changes his posture, belly size, and clothes. As such the artists confront the audience with the internal violence we place on ourselves and that is placed on society through our perception of our body image.
"I notice that people do sports not just for enjoyment but also due to their consistent stress that they have to have a certain look because other people are the ones who set the standards of beauty and thus fashion," Ghayatt comments. "Especially young people are always striving to have this ideal figure that someone else decides for them."
"And so people are always running, hoping to get closer to this ideal of beauty," he concludes.
While the artist admits that these forms of violence might be more relevant to European society, they are also connected to the lives of a significant number of people in Cairo. The constant stream of advertising in Egypt plays a role in setting those same standards of beauty that are inflicted upon people in Europe. It is even to a point where it goes beyond weight-loss and ideal figures; it is also about selling people the idea that their skin colour needs to be lighter to be considered more beautiful. Naturally, this highly competitive sensibility is also found within young professionals in several fields, especially the corporate world.
One of the most interesting — yet problematic — elements of 'Violence Lointaine' is the stage it takes place on. Talee’a Theatre is located in Attaba, an area congested with street vendors. In fact, Ghayatt finds that this setting serves the purpose of the performance. "It is hidden violence," he says. "Many questions arise in just the few metres it takes someone to walk from the metro station to the theatre. If I had an artistic dream this would be it; that the audience have this experience before experiencing our performance."
This, along with the performance itself, makes it worth the hassle of going through the market to get to the world premiere of 'Violence Lointaine.'
'Violence Lointaine' is an independent production on Talee’a Theatre's main stage. Talee’a Theatre itself operates under the Department of Theatre of the Ministry of Culture, and as its name indicates the original aim of the theatre was to present avantguardist performances and introduce texts by experimental playrights. As the years passed, the theatre hosted a mix and match of theatrical productions — classical and experimental — performed by both independent and governmental troupes.
As such 'Violence Lointaine' is an interesting revival of the core mission of this theatre.
Thursday, 3 April and Friday, 4 April at 6pm
Talee’a Theatre, Zaky Tolaymat Hall
Next to Cairo Puppet Theatre, off Gomhouria Street, Attaba, Cairo
By Metro: Get off at Attaba Station and exit at Cairo Puppet Theatre