Mithkal Alzghair
Displacement
Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadlers Wells
Shubbak and Sadler’s Well production.

 

Mithkal Alzghair’s 55 minute performance, Displacement, is both a simple and highly complex dance work.  Alzghair is a Syrian artist who has studied in Damascus and in Montpellier and the work reflects traditional Arab and modern European cultural influences.  The most dominant movement style is the Middle Eastern impulse but it is filtered through an almost-Brechtian vision which fuses dance and politics.

The evening starts with Alzghair performing solo.  He walks on to an empty stage carrying a folded sheet.  He puts on a pair of empty boots and begins dancing.  It is clear that the aesthetic is spare and that most of the musical accompaniment is the thud of sole on ground.  This obliges the audience to make political connections.  He falls to the floor in what looks like a Muslim prayer but his hands are pushed high behind his back in what might seem to be a manacle.  He mocks military violence with a series of salutes.  He takes off his shirt and lays it flat to suggest an absent man.  He steps on the shirt to evoke the stamping on human bodies.  He takes down his trousers and his ankles are bound so that he seems to be a battered prisoner.

There are moments of relief.  Alzghair presents us with short sequences of Syrian dance.  This solo seems strange as we know that such dances are usually performed as community celebrations.  I recognized elements of stepping and stomping as  the relatives of Irish, Greek, Israeli  and tap dance.  This emphasis on the solitary performer is broken in the second part when  Rami Farah and Samil Taskin  join Alzghair.  The three men start with a sequence of complex clapping rhythms.  Again the only music is the beating of feet on floor.  In a development of the first part, Alzghair works on detailed repetition of choreographic patterns.  Where the solo was the torture and liberation of a solitary man, here the dance suggests the repression of a people by a totalitarian regime.

On this bare stage, there are flashes of theatrical poetry, especially when Severine Rième’s back-lighting offers unusual images focusing on the bone structure of the male upper body.

In this section, the sheet is used for a few moments and it could have been used much more.

However, the overall dramatic arc, by dramaturg Thibault Kaiser, is outstanding.  It starts simply and develops to create a more complex cumulative effect of displacement and disturbance.   At times the dancers look out at the audience and break the fourth wall as it to asking us to engage with their war.  By the end, the clapping which was so assertive is now hardly audible.  It leaves us with the question have we become immune to their displacement?

Julia Pascal © 2017.