In her book “The Art of Making Dances,” early 20th century contemporary dance pioneer Doris Humphrey observed “all dances are too long.” This couldn’t have been truer in the case of a 30-minute piece entitled “Exit does not Exit” choreographed by Shaymaa Shokry under the mentorship of Laurence Rondoni.
Opening the third 2B Continued Festival of Theater and Contemporary Dance on Thursday, Shokry’s performance began with a clean and striking solo by Mirette Michael whose subtle and restrained movement set the stage for a performance entirely different than what was to follow.
Upon her entrance Michael, a lithe and talented dancer, cast a small shadow upon the bare walls of the stage, and was quickly joined by three male dancers, Ezzat Ezzat, Mounir Said and Ahmed El-Gendy, deploying a vocabulary of pedestrian gestures and quirky movement common to Western modern dance. Deriving its choreography from exercises typical to movement improvisation classes, “Exit does not Exit” was nonetheless interesting throughout a series of these combinations, until the point when it devolved into the opaque and unrelated episodes that would define its final 20 minutes.
What followed made it quite challenging to imagine the choreographer’s intention. This began with a solo by a young man who stood center stage, at the very edge of the stage and proceeded to defy the unemotional contemporary dance tenor established in the first 10 minutes of the dance. Standing at first quite plainly before the audience, the young man proceeded to enact a series of facial gestures, whereupon he seemed to become more and more happy, followed by a shrugging of his shoulders. What he was smiling or shrugging at however, was at no point revealed to the audience.
The dancers were then presented in a range of unexplained motions, from thrashing about the stage as if they were in a crowded nightclub to a play on childhood games wherein they used their hands as guns and “shot” at the audience and each other. Here we found the exits of the performance did not exit, for throughout the series of violent gestures that ensued the dancers would not die. Instead, like an American action movie, they continued to senselessly perform and shoot without registering — among themselves or for their audience — any notion of the implication of their actions.
The presence of a simultaneous video which projected the image of the live dancers in a sort psychedelic collage throughout the middle of piece might have been used far more sparingly, lest it be confused with a desire to substitute this device for a lack of content or meaning. Similarly, without the sort of interventions of editing the dance desperately needed, “Exit does not Exit” became a strange title which seemed to unintentionally refer to the performance as a whole; one which overall displayed a deficit of consciousness toward the importance of timing, of closure, of exits themselves.
The festival’s opening piece was then followed by a brief interlude from the first year dance students of the Artistic Creativity Center of Cairo. Under the choreography of their teacher Dalia El-Abd, the five young women performed a routine which conjured their studies of the technique and ritualistic movement of early contemporary dancer Martha Graham.
The final performance of the evening was the loveable “Frenzy for two” directed by Yousra El-Sharkawy under the mentorship of Hassan El-Geretly. Written by Eugene Ionesco, under the title “Frenzy for Two or More,” the absurd and covertly political play lends itself well to an Egyptian context, where the unfolding of everyday life is no less absurd in relation to its surreal political realities. The play was performed by Dina Mohsen in the role of “She” and Mohamed Abdel Rahman as “He,” a couple whose bizarre marital arguments fall against the backdrop of an ambiguous war which rattles their walls and sends hand grenades through their windows.
The play is adeptly translated into colloquial Arabic whose clever dialogue is performed with a keen sense of timing and delivery by the actors. The play unfolds with a cartoon-like sensibility with Mohsen and Rahman in a series of scenes which take them from young to old, from war to war, all the while quibbling about the similarities between a tortoise and a snail, even as that snail takes the form of a bomb fragment strewn through the window. In Sharkawy’s performance, the windows appear in a set beautifully designed by Yara El-Walid Ahmed. The skilled actors managed summon the laughter of the audience while avoiding the trap of routine slapstick. Mohsen and Rahman are smart physical comedians as "He" and "She" living whimsical lives in a brutal world, draping a blanket over themselves to avoid the explosions.
The third edition of the 2B Continued Laboratory & Festival of Theater and Contemporary Dance is presented at the Falaky Theater, Downtown Cairo, 8 pm. “Exit does not Exit,” and “Frenzy for Two” are shown on Saturday, January 15. The fest concludes on January 18. Admission is free.