Plenty of suffering to go around

BEIRUT: Some forms of violence leave no physical scars, but still inflict emotional damage which can last a lifetime. “Moiltik,” the latest contemporary dance offering from Lebanese-Canadian choreographer and dancer Zei Khauli, does something similar to its audience as it explores the emotional consequences of violence against women.

The performance is choreographed by Khauli, one of the co-founders of Lebanon’s Maqamat Dance House, and also features dancer Lisa Chehade along with live music from the mellow-voiced Anthony Khoury.

“Moiltik” is being staged at the Nasawiya Collective’s new space in Mar Mikhail, from which the feminist group runs a series of campaigns for women’s rights, and holds periodic cultural events aimed at raising awareness of gender issues.

Makeshift seating faces the rear of the room, where a theatrical set provides a backdrop to the action, which takes place in three distinct areas – a child’s bedroom, a kitchen and a teenager’s room.

The performance deals with issues of pedophilia, domestic violence and rape – and has been rated suitable for audiences 18 years of age and over. Using dance as a means to explore these issues on an emotional, rather than an intellectual, level is an effective idea – if somewhat harrowing to watch.

Paper placards provide details of the key events in the manner of the inter-titles used in silent films – each dispassionately telling a short story of horror and violence.

“He used to babysit her sometimes when her parents went out in the evening,” the first of these begins ominously, setting the scene for a story of the rape of an 8-year-old girl.

While the placards provide the hard facts, the emotional aftermath is explored through dance. Khauli weeps uncontrollably as she whirls her way across the stage like a dervish. Chehade, meanwhile, provides a more repressed counterpoint, moving with a meditative precision as she assumes the role of the childhood self of Khauli’s character, as well as that of her abusive partner.

The staging makes good use of the office space. In one corner of the room, a small cubicle has been built to enclose a bathroom. The roof of this little hut serves as a stage, where the vocalist perches. Khoury sits, back to the audience, surrounded by cardboard boxes, engrossed in his instrument’s keyboard.

The musician’s melodic voice and heartfelt keyboard accompaniment add a crucial dimension to the performance, accentuating the emotional drama. Regrettably his distance from the stage and his back-to-the-audience deployment make it easy to forget that he is performing live, detracting somewhat from this particular, very interesting, aspect of the performance.

Also, the ad hoc seating arrangements make visibility patchy at best. For anyone unlucky enough to have someone sitting in front of them, certain passages – which involve athletic rolling and writhing about the floor – are reduced to the occasional flash of a raised limb.

Overall “Moiltik” provides an emotionally charged exploration of the aftermath of violence against women, complete with much weeping and tearing of the hair (both metaphorical and literal). It effectively communicates the torment of these experiences, and in the process inflicts a fair amount of psychological trauma on the audience.

Cast in the role of a victim more than survivor, Khauli’s much-abused figure struggles with her demons but never fully throws them off. Those who enjoy a happy ending – or at least a ray of hope in the gloom – may find the relentless suffering somewhat depressing.

Zei Khauli’s “Moiltik,” is on show at the Nasawiya Space in Mar Mikhail until June 10. For more information please call 01-565-442.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 06, 2012, on page 16.




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