Culture

Defying the cult of positive thinking

BEIRUT: The cult of positive thinking is invading your life. Groaning shelves of self-help books, as well as magazine articles and TV shows, contend that a bright demeanor is a cure for everything from cancer to low salaries.Positive thinkers place grumpiness on a par with substance abuse or squalor as a destructive lifestyle choice. Moaners, misery guts, whiners, party poopers and naysayers are the heathens of this new religion.

Perhaps the last refuge for the gloomy is art. A shrinking band of musicians, novelists, even the odd filmmaker, still dish up bleak visions of human existence.

One such downbeat creation is “Madad” (Heartache), a work-in-progress incorporating dance, music and video that premiered Friday as part of the Sunflower Cultural Center’s ongoing “50 Days, 50 Years” festival.

Created by dancers Mariam Hammoud and Jessika Khazrik together with musician Ziad Boustani, “Madad” deals with humanity’s attempts to find a footing in what Hammoud refers to as “this toxic universe.”

“We look for safety but find only the illusion of safety,” adds Boustani during a post-show telephone conversation. “In the end, you’re always going to be locked inside your own self.”

Such sentiments wouldn’t win plaudits from the positive thinking brigade, but they have worked as creative catalyst for the trio. “Madad,” channels existential angst into an engrossing aesthetic experience.

Beginning with a high-pitched electronic whine, the lights went up on Khazrik’s naked back, perched on a pedestal with a metal chain running down her spine. Her head dropped forward out of sight, Khazrik’s back twitched and jiggled, a block of flesh escaping bondage.

Hammoud staggered onstage sporting a voluminous black ball gown. Weighed down by the large water container dragging behind her, Hammoud seemed to be trawling through treacle.

Occasionally she clutched her petticoats and raised them toward her face, perhaps flashing an offstage observer or else laboriously enacting a flamenco flourish.

Like Khazrik with her chains, Hammoud eventually shook free of the folds of her gown. A burst of bleeps and pulses in the soundtrack marked a change of register in the performance.

Stripped down to black underwear and wearing gas masks, the two dancers navigated through strips of light marking a maze on the stage floor. Crawling, sliding, lunging and folding, the faceless pair were rendered mechanistic as they enacted complex sequences of angular movement, bringing to mind the cerebral choreography of Wayne McGregor.

Another abrupt change was signaled when the dancers arrived inside a large Plexiglas cube at center stage. Boustani’s soundtrack was silenced as Hammoud and Khazrik dressed themselves while frantically declaiming bursts of nonsense speech like characters escaped from a Samuel Beckett play.

Breaking out of the cube, Hammoud tumbled and rolled on the floor, grasping and tearing at giant sheets of paper that covered the stage. An ominous, juddering beat appeared to herald the dancer’s doom. She rose to her feet, knees wobbling and hair covering her face, while Khazrik collapsed slowly backward into a tub.

Over in a matter of 20 minutes, “Madad” is a brief blast of bleakness. Hammoud and her associates intend to develop the performance over the next few months, so watch out for future performances – unless, of course, you’re already a card-carrying positive thinker.

“50 Days 50 Years” continues at the Sunflower Cultural Center (aka Dawar al-Shams) until April 23. For further details visit www.shamslb.org or call 01 381 290.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 05, 2011, on page 16.

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