Dublin Dance Festival 2017: Displacement
Dancing In The Dark
Religion and militarism are never far away in “Displacement,” by Syrian choreographer and performer, Mithkal Alzhghair. Opening with a lone, barefoot dancer carrying a folded white sheet onstage with an almost ritual reverence, he places it respectfully on the ground before donning a pair of black military boots. He proceeds to dance, without music, a dance grounded in the feet, his gaze never leaving the audience. In what follows traditional Syrian folk dance is lent new depth and expressiveness as it is reclaimed and re-imagined as both legacy and heritage, and as a site where the body can give shape to, and is shaped by, the experiences of Syria today.
Divided into two segments, the first sees soloist Mithkal Alzhghair dancing traditional Depke steps, which appear to be interspersed with moments of hopscotch, marching and a myriad of other hints that suggest a rich and varied culture. Boots cast aside, the now bare chested dancer, arms held behind his back, trousers around his ankles, evokes something darker and more sinister as he attempts to stay upright. Presently he dresses, eventually leaves the stage, having opened a conversation on the body as a site of pain and protest. In the second sequence Alzhghair is joined by dancers Rami Farah and Samil Taskin who dance, first to music, then in silence, again discarding t-shirts to dance bare chested. A simple device, it heightens a palpable sense of the three men’s vulnerability. Arms held high, as if a weapon is being pointed at them, they appear to be engaged in an act of compliance. Yet soon hands clap out beats, waving gently, as if saying, hello, can you see me, can you help me, or goodbye. Just as it begins to lose a little of its momentum, there’s a palpable shift as “Displacement” becomes visually more intriguing, with dancers executing a series of short tableaux depicting pain and loss. Dancers may fall repeatedly, but they rise every time, yet the final image of this trio setting off in three different directions speaks poignantly to their mass separation and migration into a dark and unknown future.
A response to the experiences of Syria today, “Displacement” doesn’t try bludgeon its audience, it knows true power lies in the most basic places: the body made vulnerable, the direct gaze of the eyes, in simplicity of execution. “Displacement” is very much of its time and moment, and the question whether “Displacement” will still stand the test of time is open to debate. But it stands the test of this time. To experience “Displacement” is to experience a painful disclosure, sensitively made, one steeped in honesty and vulnerability, tragedy and dignity.
“Displacement” by Mithkal Alzhghair runs at The Peacock Stage at The Abbey Theatre as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2017 until May 27th