BEIRUT: Hamra has a history of being a cultural hub of Beirut. In pop culture terms, it remains boisterous to this day, with expats, students, craftsmen and artists adding to the quarter’s dynamism.
It is no longer cinema central, as it was before the Civil War, with most of the old theaters being retooled for bargain-basement retail. But, between Hamra’s summer street festival and the year-round theater and music program of the Masrah al-Madina, traces of high culture remain.
The Maqamat Dance Theater has now added to the critical mass of Hamra Street culture with a new contemporary dance space. Its role is to promote local and international artists and stage their work. The space – whose program began in September and continues until the end of November – enables artists to perform, reside and teach, instilling a deeper approach to contemporary dance in the local community.
The dance space will shut to the public for the month of December, allowing Maqamat to prepare the program of the three following months.
The students registering for Maqamat’s training workshops have the opportunity to meet internationally renowned artists – such as Venezuela’s dance media artist Marlon Barrios, who will commence his sessions Saturday.
As Maqamat’s artistic director Omar Rajeh explained, one of the dance theater’s objectives is to “push [the students’] skills and ideas about contemporary dance further.”
There are no true criteria of selection for the international artists coming to Beirut. The only important aspect is the respect of the program’s theme. Rajeh told The Daily Star the theme of this month’s performances is digital techniques. Marlon Barrios is renowned for his abilities to relate dance with media techniques, this being one of the reasons for his coming to Lebanon.
Barrios’s website dance-tech.net is an international platform where artists, dancers and technicians share and post videos of their projects.
His stay in Beirut, Rajeh said, will be his opportunity to show “how dance and digital media can collaborate.”
The program continues on Oct. 14, when Lebanese dancer and choreographer Ali Chahrour and France’s Emilie Thomas will present their duet entitled “On the Lips, Snow.”
This performance deals with the confrontations among body, soul and exterior objects. It also tackles the importance of rejection. Shall we listen to our mind or to our body? Or shall we create a new entity of our own, that combines both body and mind without any conflict? These are questions the duet hopes to provoke in the audience’s mind. If we could sum-up the program of the Maqamat Dance Theater’s space in one word, it would probably be “multiculturalism.”
In addition to Barrios and Chahrour, Swiss dancer and independent choreographer Marcel Leeman will also be in Beirut to present workshops on Oct. 21. He is renowned for his structured improvisations and he will enlighten the attending students to his art.
Working in collaboration with the Takween collective, another of Rajeh’s initiatives, Leeman will animate training sessions to teach how contemporary dance can combine emotions, body movements and sometimes humor.
On Oct. 22 and 28, Rajeh’s solo work “Facing the Blank Page” will confront the audience with an extraordinary performance. Rajeh’s show unfolds as the story of his life, as though the audience were interviewing him. His childhood and his relationship with his father are among the subjects on the menu. Rajeh will mingle moments of complete motionlessness and instances of increasingly furious movement.
This month’s program will end with Belgian dancer and choreographer Thierry Smits. His shows are renowned for their oscillations between the different stages that could characterize the body – sacred, sexual and ill. On Oct. 29, he will direct sessions on how the body can be as much a subject of inspiration as an object of creation.
The “Maqamat Dance Theater” program continues with Ali Chahrour’s duet “On the Lips, Snow” on Oct. 14th. For more information please call 01-343-834.