A dancer soaked in blue blood is standing on a blue planet floating through the vast black universe like a reversed Atlas, tired of carrying the world. That is the image shown on the backdrop, filmed live by a drone. In reality, and visible simultaneously, the dancer (a fabulous Charlie Prince) is on a circular piece of blue flooring on the stage. The universe is us, in the darkened auditorium. Minaret, shown last night as part of this year’s Julidans festival, is a show that offers multiple perspectives.
Choreographer Omar Rajeh and his Maqamat Dance Theatre have used a carousel of elements to turn Minaret into the exhilarating, confusing, upsetting and very human piece that it is. And it is in the sum of all the elements that the added value lies. With six dancers, five tables, live music, the recorded voice of a muezzin, a lump of plaster, some blue paint and that drone, the possible permutations to generate stories are countless. In this abundance the piece captures the essence of a city.
The city is Aleppo and the overall sense is that of life demanding to be lived despite the devastation. There’s the threat of war, as personified by the drone plus an intense mix of live music and recorded sound effects. The drone stalks the dancers, pushes them down and attacks. But there is love, too, as danced in duos with tender, tentative movements of the arms and torsos. There is the tactile joy of crafting as hands and fingers work the plaster mound on one of the tables. There is the chaotic rush of traffic reflected in group work. Stories start and stories end. Ultimately there is pain and fear when the dancers carry a limp and deathly pale body out of the way of the drone’s frenzied whir, in search of some form of safety. A fate you’d wish no child or parent should ever have to face.
But Minaret rises above the string of endings and captivates through the shifting role the drone plays. Threatening and frightening as it is, with two piercing red lights for eyes and several propellers menacingly clicking into action time and again, it makes its way into the life of the city. Like the call of the muezzin five times a day, it floats into and out of people’s daily lives. They obey or ignore and live or die with the consequences.
You would think the bodies onstage express constant fear in response to this sinister presence. But even though they are mangled, they get back on their feet. Minaret seems to say: we living creatures, we the survivors, learn to live with fear and loss. Our physicalities adapt to accommodate their additional weight. Charlie Prince’s long, expressive limbs are poised to the tips of the fingers and toes as he strides across the whole earth. But the movements are more laboured now than they were at the start, when his arms and legs appeared to be channelling the gentle flow of water or tiny birds lifting off from within his core. Moments before he lay bleeding out on a table. Is he an angel now? Or is his body defying death with its heart that won’t stop beating?
The drone’s camera reveals us onlookers witnessing the heroic yet tragic act and the chaos from which it stems. Seeing ourselves reverses our role from followers of the newsfeed to an actual presence. We are so close. We are so moved. How can we sit here and watch?
Seen: July 9, 2019, during Julidans Rabozaal/International Theatre Amsterdam.