Lessons in Revolting: A play about a very personal revolution

Wael Eskandar with contributions by Dahlia Ferrer, Tuesday 23 Aug 2011

Lessons in Revolting is not another regurgitation of the factual events of Egypt's revolution, but a film, dance and verbal presentation of the state of mind of each of the performers during the revolution

Lessons in Revolting
Lessons in Revolting

Lessons in Revolting is an interpretive dance performance that reflects the emotions and the state of mind of activists and artists during certain days of Egypt’s revolution. It is a personal recounting of these experiences through scenes, emotions and movements contributed personally by the performers.

The concept was developed by Laila Soliman and Ruud Gielens, who also directed the performance. The performers are Aida El-Kashef, Aly Khamees, Aly Sobhy, contemporary dancer Karima Mansour, singer Maryam, Omar Mostafa, Ruud Gielens and Salma Said. The participants are artists and activists whose personal experiences were relayed through a combination of dance and video.

The most refreshing element to the performance is that it does not pay tribute to the revolution, but to revolutionaries. It does not judge the revolution or go into the depths of analysing what has happened. The complexities of how the events have affected politics remain completely untouched.  This gives the performance a sense of authenticity and truthfulness that will remain long after the show ceases to be performed.

Many of the works on the revolution to date have attempted to document or analyse the revolution. These works fail, as they fail to provide authenticity by over-analysing events and drawing conclusions that are not necessarily accurate or true.

The greatest strength of the performance is the personal nature of the stories. But in some parts of the performance this strength is its weakness. The events, the imagery, the words and the dance are combined to trigger the thought process and to relate events to feelings. Sometimes, however, the connection between the image and the performance is lost and with it; the meaning behind these personal moves and moments.

The dance in and of itself is entertaining and well-choreographed by Karima Mansour. The moves don’t just portray interesting visuals, but manage to make the audience physically feel the revolution’s sometimes overwhelming frustration. In another choreography, the dance managed to substitute words completely in her great performance in a duet with Ruud Gielens. Gielens represents the revolutionaries or the revolution, and Mansour the suppressive forces in control. She steps on his chest, with a proud, controlling expression and lulls him by singing a few stanzas. They grab each others’ arms at one point and rock, in an intertwined tug-of-war. Her controlling expression rarely changes as she climbs back over him, in a show of who is controlling who. The message is as clear as if it were written on paper.

The actors presented some monologues, surrounded by their friends who help keep the momentum of the play going and supplemented the monologues with movement. The most notable of which was Aly Sobhy’s monologue as he ridiculed and responded to the mlitary’s statements to Egyptians that they should consider themselves lucky that the army did not attack them. He replied with a heartfelt sarcasm, annoyance, anger and engaged the audience in his disbelief at such a “favour.”

The show’s emphasis on experience manages to portray a wider spectrum of reality. When activist Salma Said relayed her emotions of abandonment and blame on Egyptians who did not support the revolutionaries after 9 April, as they did after the famous Battle of the Camel; she was not only expressing her feelings, but reflecting the reality of a detachment from people who seem tired of activists and protesters.

The organisation of the event was commendable. With limited seating, free tickets were handed out before the show and only ticket holders were allowed inside the small theatre. Every night there was a waiting list and anyone who got there after 8pm was too far down at the end of the list. The start of the show was relatively punctual and no one was allowed in after the performance began.

Lessons in Revolting opened on 18 August at the Rawabet Theatre. The play will be performed until Tuesday, 23 August before embarking on a European tour.

18 August – Tuesday 23 August, 9pm
Rawabat Theatre
3 Hussein al-Me'amar Street (off Mahmoud Basiouny Street, Downtown Cairo)

European tour dates TBA


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