PARIS: A newspaper in Brittany recently ran a story with the headline “Dancing from Brest to Beirut.”
But in fact, the dance is from Beirut to Brest. The Atlantic port town is home to Le Quartz, one of France’s most dynamic cultural centers, which hosts the 3-year-old contemporary dance festival Dansfabrik.
Past editions of the event have featured the Balkans and Germany, but this year its guests of honor include dancers, musicians, a photographer and a filmmaker from Beirut and several other Middle Eastern cities.
“Beyrouth – Les Lucioles” ( Beirut – The Fireflies) is curated by Yalda Younes, who for some years has excited international audiences with her passionate, intelligent interpretations of contemporary flamenco.
Among those familiar with Younes’ work is Le Quartz director Matthieu Banvillet, who Younes says had been “thinking about Lebanon for a while.”
Best-known as a dancer, Younes has a broad palette of interests. She studied film before practicing dance, and is also a choreographer. In Beirut, she is perhaps as well known as a civil rights activist, having co-founded Laique Pride, an organization campaigning for equal rights among Lebanese and the separation of religion and state.
A common thread connects her selection of artists – a creativity that departs from the well-worn track of a consumer culture.
Younes says she was inspired by “The Survival of Fireflies,” a book by French art historian and philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman. In the book, Didi-Huberman responds to the work of others – such as writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini – for whom the disappearance of fireflies from the night sky, caused by pollution, symbolized the devastating decline of contemporary culture.
There nonetheless remains, Didi-Huberman counters, “a community of desire, a community radiating light, of dance despite everything, of thoughts to transmit.”
Younes looked for artists who “seek, who vibrate, who resonate and who come together in the undertow [of Beirut],” away from the “fiercer spotlights of economic glory, plastic surgery and political authority.”
Younes’ fireflies include dancer, choreographer and co-founder of Zoukak Theatre Company, Danya Hammoud. She will perform her solo dance piece “Mahalli” (My Place) and will be among the ensemble performing her “Mes Mains sont plus Agées que moi” (My Hands are Older than Me), which explores the instant before one person takes the life of another.
Nancy Naous, who studied theater and dance in Lebanon and France, will have her European debut with the dabkeh-inspired piece “These shoes are made for walking,” which she calls a “choreographic essay on the Arab world’s current events.”
Another of the performers, dancer and choreographer Khouloud Yassine, has an “unsettling”stage presence, as Younes describes it, rooted in an intense interaction that is exemplified in her unaccompanied solo work “Le Silence de l’Abandon” (The Silence of Abandonment). Yassine will also perform “Entre Temps 2,” a dance-music collaboration with her brother, percussionist Khaled Yassine.
Khaled will also perform as part of the Alif Ensemble, which assembles contemporary and classical musicians from across the Levant. Khyam Allami, Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, Maurice Louca and Yassine combine percussion, oud, vocals and electronica. After their European premiere at Brest, Alif will move on to Paris.
Louca, a co-founder of the Egyptian electronic band Bikya, will also perform his first French solo gig during Dansfabrik.
In what will be his European premiere, Alexandre Paulikevitch, who Younes describes as “strong and fragile in his extremely courageous work” will perform “Tajwal” (Wanderings). After studying in France, Paulikevitch performed with Paris’ Leila Haddad Dance Company before returning in 2006 to Beirut, where he was among the co-founders of Laique Pride.
“I am constantly verbally solicited: seduced, mocked, harassed, celebrated,” Paulikevitch says of his performance, which integrates Baladi dance. “My body and the city wage war upon each other. Anxieties and excitement merge and clash.”
In the week following Dansfabrik, Paulikevitch will take “Tajwal” to Poitiers.
Joining the performing artists in Brest are photographer Tanya Traboulsi and filmmaker Rania Stephan. Traboulsi’s photographic series “Home” examines notions of roots and belonging, familiar to many Lebanese who grew up abroad or lived in several countries.
“It’s a subject that affects all of us,” Younes says, “even those who live in Beirut are elsewhere in their head.”
Younes has no affection for identity politics in the arts. “In general I avoid transforming artists into ambassadors for their countries,” she says. “Many artists have this problem when they are invited to festivals with a focus on the Middle East. Sometimes this gives a particular color to the festival before the performances have even started.
“I tried to make it so that it would be universal, without a particular color ... Of course their work sheds light onto a region and what is happening there, and their vision is as political as it is aesthetic.”
Dansfabrik will screen Rania Stephan's award-wining 2011 feature “The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni.” An homage to the Egyptian movie star assembled of scenes from her films, it also gestures toward the unique popular diffusion of that country’s historic film production.
“What interested me most of all in the selection of these artists was their professional journey, the risk they took in their research,” Younes says. “They are fireflies who have chosen to glow rather than take the path of big shiny lights.”
Dansfabrik continues at Le Quartz until March 22. For more information see: http://www.dansfabrik.com