Bipod: When the body enters politics
Isabelle Mayault - 12/04/2010
Bipod: neither iPod nor biped, this name sounds like the one of a robot from Star Wars, and yet! The so called event is exactly the opposite of all automatism: Bipod is a contemporary dance festival born in Beirut in 2007; a revolution for the world of arts in the Middle East. The phenomenon has become increasingly popular when four choreographers from the region created the Masahat network linking Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories. This is the reason why from the 16th of April to the 2nd of May 2010, the best international contemporary dance companies will perform in Beirut, Damascus, Amman and Ramallah in front of a public that has recently converted to their art. What is more natural indeed than the keen interest of these capitals used to troubled political atmospheres in bodies, moved by social and universal themes?
The program of the 2010’s edition has a vintage touch: the German Sasha Waltz, the Spanish La Ribot, and also Mathilde Monnier, Emio Greco or Linga will be present for three or four days in each participating city. « The visit is due to a mixture of luck, determination and different circumstances! » comments Mey Sefan, director of the DCDP (Damascus Contemporary Dance Platform) who has returned back to her natal city only since a year ago. «I am also very happy to be able to present the work of Syrian choreographers… and I hope to present further more artists next year! » adds Mey, enthusiastically.
In Ramallah, the international dancers’ performances will take place in various theatres of the city and at the same time, dance training courses will be organized thus enabling the training of Palestinian dancers. One can also watch film projections on Pina Bausch, a reference of contemporary German dance. In Damascus, the dancers will take over the Opera of the Syrian capital for a few days. Born from Bipod, a Lebanese contemporary dance festival per se, created by Omar Rajeh, a network entitled Masahat has been woven between the four cities, thus metamorphosing the importance of the performances thanks to an increasing visibility. «It has become easier and at the same time more interesting for dance companies to make themselves known in the region» explains Omar. This meeting’s success is dazzling and it has imposed itself as a major festival in the world of contemporary dance.
And no one had foreseen it… « I didn’t imagine that Sasha Waltz could come to Beirut! » exclaims Omar Rajeh. « However, thanks to the previous editions, the festival has become well known internationally ».
« The network’s development has advertised the festival. This cooperation is very pleasant for cultural associations, dance companies and also for us » explains Mey Sefan. A cooperation with a multiple scope since it aims at the young generations, encourages exchange and promotes social issues related to freedom.
These danced encounters enable the young people of the participating cities to develop dancing talents, particularly thanks to workshops and training courses organised at the same time as the performances. They provide an occasion of cooperation between Arab and European cultural institutes and an opportunity for exchange between regional and international artists. The festival also supports the introduction of international artists to the life and the society of the country where they are invited… and of course, finally, the introduction of contemporary dance as an alternative form of artistic expression among the local public.
The development of contemporary dance in the Middle East
According to Omar Rajeh, contemporary dance does not make part of the «entertainment» category. It is a concept. A way of dealing with themes linked to the individual, to everyday life that are not tackled in classical ballet. «The dancer in not confined to any particular movement. Contemporary dance is open to many other areas: to music, of course, but also to visual arts, to video, to text» explains Omar. For Mey Sefan, contemporary dance in the Middle East «is still in its infancy but I’m sure that many things are yet to come».
Who is the audience of an art that is still considered as marginal and avant-garde? "A big part of the audience consists of students from the Institute of Dramatic Arts in Damascus ..." declares Mey. Same thing in Ramallah where those who are interested are young people, members of dance troupes, artists, journalists, cultural organisations and students. Majd Hajjaj from Ramallah explains that: «When the festival began, it was new and unfamiliar for people so little was moving. But from year to year the basis has been established and the public now anticipates and look forward to the festival each year». The group of people that are interested is rather small but the choreographers involved in these encounters are unanimous: the aim is not to bring about a revolution but to simply practice a dance that deals with everyday life and that enables the expression of feelings and themes emanating from this everyday life in another way than words.
Translated to English by Elizabeth Grech