That Part of Heaven

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A photo of the play's poster

By: Rebecca Whiting

Published Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Lebanese civil war is a topic that has been addressed ad nauseam in the domestic cultural world. More recent years have seen artists move away from masticating on the subject, rejecting the notion that society be solely defined by that era of the past.

Omar Rajeh, artistic director of Dance Theatre Maqamat, very much feels that it is not yet time to let that history lie. He believes that because there was no public reconciliation, people are still carrying their pain. He sees it still maliciously manifesting itself in every intricacy of people’s lives, from the everyday emotions, to the dangerous games of those in power – an unburied and ever-potent conflict.

“It’s like a wound you don’t want to look at and want to forget about. But we can’t just ignore it.”

For Rajeh, the violent past is today a powerful agent in the national psyche. “Sometimes I feel there is no awareness of the future here,” says Rajeh, “It’s as if we haven’t shook that sensation from the war of not knowing what tomorrow will be.”

“That Part of Heaven” – the title a snatch from a line in Hamlet – is an exploration of this dynamic in the realm of the body, describing the physical incarnation of the still-present scars from the war and the pressure it puts on a person’s mentality. In choreographing the piece, Rajeh and the dancers each brought to the floor their own experiences, emotions, and realities.

The five dancers illuminated on the stage at Hamra’s al-Madina Theatre jerk and convulse their bodies, manipulated by an unseen force. They assume the manner of mannequins, a mockery of the plastic, and jolt in disjointed shock. They are drawn together seeking comfort and support, piling on top of each other only to force themselves apart and drop exhausted.

The stage floor is of wet foam, which casts sprays of water as the dancers build up to the frenetic, their clothes and hair becoming sodden as they twist in a performance that screams confusion, anger, and sorrow.

As the morose piano music gives way to the discomforting sounds of gushing water, the dancers express love, helplessness, and union through their alternating mix of solo fits and synchronized stanzas, including an unexpected baring of posteriors and a final defiant raised middle finger.

The team were particularly anxious to avoid staging a performance at ease with Lebanese society being desensitized to war and violence. “The war is deeply rooted in our lives, but we don’t want to represent it as something we have accepted,” he said.

“Of course it’s painful and sensitive but we want to put an end to this. It’s naive to think it will just go away.”

The piece is both tragic and exuberant, a dichotomy that Rajeh sees in the society around him. The title of the piece reflects that too, he says, conveying a sense of nostalgia but imbued with sarcasm. “It’s about that feeling in Lebanon that people want to be happy and to live a normal life.”

Rajeh is quick to say that he in no way thinks that this will be achieved through a dance piece, or in one or even ten years. “But we have to do something. This piece is about raising questions, about starting to address these issues.”

“That Part of Heaven” is showing at al-Madina Theatre from 18 to 27 January, 2013.

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