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The word creates the music, the movement and the movie


BEIRUT: “The beginning created the movement, the movement created the sign; the sign, the planets, and the planets created the forms.”So wrote the American-Lebanese author Etel Adnan in her book “Voyage au Mont Tamalpais” (Journey to Mount Tamalpais), and so began “JoKaRi,” a multimedia performance piece enacted in the Theatre Montaigne at the Centre Culturel Francais (CCF), Tuesday and Wednesday evening.
On an upstage video screen, a lump of livid orange glass became globular in a furnace, while dancer Caroline Hatem leant with arms reaching forward as if draped over a huge ball. A soprano voice hovered on a sustained note, blended with a threatening, knocking sound and the repetitive huffing of a steam train – a segment of composer Joelle Khoury’s collage of pre-recorded sounds.
Beirut’s year as world book capital is throwing up all manner of literary activity, but few are likely to be as alluring as “JoKaRi,” a multi-disciplinary response to three Lebanese authors writing in French.
In addition to extracts from “Voyage au Mont Tamalpais,” the evening took in sections of “L’Offrande vesperale” (The Evening Offering), by poet and philosopher Jad Hatem, and an unpublished text from writer and performer Ritta Baddoura, “Lettre a lui” (Letter to Him).
Anyone who caught Khoury’s “Electroesie” at the CCF last year will have an inkling of the flavor of “JoKaRi.” “Electroesie” used a poem of Antoine Boulad’s, half sung and half recited to Khoury’s collage of piano, cello and electronic effects, while a VJ manipulated artwork by Dima Hajjar.
“JoKaRi” displayed a greater ambition along almost every axis. Experiments with movement in “Electroesie” were replaced by choreographed segments of contemporary dance from Hatem. 
Rather than manipulated images, a full-blown video work was constructed for the performance by Kinda Hassan and Shaghig Arsoumanian.
Texts were tossed between the performers like hot potatoes. Snatches of recitation were discerned amid Khoury’s aural collage. Hatem interspersed sequences of movement with spoken interludes. Baddoura herself was onstage for much of the performance, delivering her own work and passages from the others.
Extracts appeared on the video – a close-up shot of the nib of a pen followed it drawing a line that wove in and out of the words from a passage from “L’Offrande vesperale.”
There wasn’t much sense of a narrative. Rather, the work was a platform for cross-disciplinary fertilization.
“JoKaRi is, above all,” according to the press release, “a meeting between four Lebanese women [Khoury, Baddoura, Hatem and Hassan] who wanted to combine their respective disciplines, to see them blur, adapt and exchange.”
Each of the four main collaborators already has more than one arrow in her quiver. Aside from her work as a video artist, Hassan runs the Lebanon branch of the record label “Eka3.” Hatem is a writer as well as a dancer. Baddoura, the poet, is also an adept of the “Bhutto” dance form. In addition to working with jazz and contemporary classical forms, Khoury has a fascination for text. She has used authors as diverse as Rainer Maria Rilke, Virginia Woolf and Nadia Tueni in her work.

This, then, was the fertile ground from which “JoKaRi” sprang. The mode of its construction gives the sense of a game of “Chinese whispers.” 
After the initial selection of texts and extracts had been made, Khoury composed her score. Hassan and Arsoumanian constructed their video work in reaction to the music and the text. Hatem’s choreography took into account the video work as well.
Baddoura, who improvised jerky, marionette-like movement alongside her onstage recitations, brought the project full circle. While her performance was sensitive to the efforts of all her co-collaborators, her writing was among the original stimuli for the project.
Sometimes it felt there were too many different elements for the brain to take in, but at other moments the disparate elements coalesced wonderfully.
Hassan’s video doubled as a set and an actor in the onstage action. Symbolic segments of creation and destruction – the glass blowing, a burning pyre bobbing on a silky mass of water – were interspersed with images of abandon. Sufi dancers filmed by Hassan in Cairo whirled and rotated their heads, a woman rolled in the shallows of a churning ocean.
A lovely moment of interaction between video and performer saw Baddoura thrashing around onstage like the woman in the sea; a huge wave loomed and froze above Baddoura’s head, threatening to crush her. As Baddoura watched, the woman in the video, who now seemed to have become Baddoura’s proxy, disappeared beneath the water for what seemed an impossibly long time. The moment when she regained the surface was one of genuine relief.
Khoury’s electronic composition blended all manner of sounds: Hysterical laughter, crumpled paper, the hissing of steam, gibberish words, birdsong. The polyphonic soundscape, reminiscent of the work of contemporary composers such as Nico Muhly, was augmented by live piano from Khoury herself, with cello played by Angela Hounanian. 
Expansive, jazz-inflected chords returned as a repeated refrain, intermingled with tense, dramatic hammering, Hounanian vigorously bowing her cello.
Around the half-way mark, audiences may have been surprised by the appearance of a thumping beat complete with hissing cymbal. Together with the rhythmic recitations of Hatem and Baddoura, this brought the sound somewhere close to the kind of pastoral hip-hop produced by American sisters CocoRosie.
The word “obscene,” excised from Baddoura’s writing, ricocheted from the performers to the recorded voices, as Hatem plunged and writhed to the pulse, the fuchsia silk of her skirt flickering like a flame.
Another extract from Adnan closed the piece – “I remember that mountains are women.” 
As Baddoura descended to a prone position, and Hatem sat watching the bobbing, ecstatic head of the Sufi dancers that had re-appeared on screen with a refrain from cello and piano, it became clear that, however inscrutable this multi-faceted performance may have been, it was endowed with a curious power to touch the emotions.

Date: 11/27/2009
Author: Matthew Mosley
Article Newspaper: Daily Star
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