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Manama, Bahrain to host the 2nd Forum on Arab Festivals

24 Jan

The 2nd forum on Arab Festivals will take place on March 1st and 2nd 2012 in Bahrain and it looks like a really interesting and exciting event. Below is their official call for participants – while there is not a website for the event yet, information can be obtained by email to Khadijah Lakkis Forum Executive Director

Call for Participants.

The Second Forum on Festivals in the Arab Countries is the only state-level Arab Festival event hosted in the Arab region. With a galaxy of experts in various fields and masters of great wisdom, this Festival Forum is another highlight of the festivals in the Arab countries.
In its second version, this festival forum is organized by the Ministry of Culture in the Kingdom of Bahrain, in coordination with the Arab Administrative Development Organization , to celebrate Manama, the Arab Capital Culture of 2012. This forum is committing itself to both innovation and originality as successfully held in its first version in Beirut in December 2009.
Over two days, a bunch of festival presidents, organizers, managers, and art directors will gather to exchange information and expertise about different issues of festivals exploring the way to improve and upgrade the levels of festivals in the Arab countries.
The sessions of this forum are comprised into a welcome/opening address, two keynote sessions, and five regular sessions presenting and debating the latest thinking and festival business insights in addition to reviewing the key achievements and challenges facing festivals nowadays. Also, there will be a further focus on the most important issues in the festival industry, plus extended and expanded networking opportunities for neighboring countries to share knowledge and update the quality of their festivals to include all the family. This forum ends up with a panel discussion and recommendations session.
We believe that the 2nd Festival Forum is not only a gathering for festival organizers, artists, even governmental officials, enterprisers, and celebrities, but will become one of important means for intercultural communication as well.
In view of this, we sincerely invite you to attend this 2012 Forum of Festivals in Manama on March 1st & 2nd. During this event, and exclusively for this year, there will be the opening of the Annual Spring of Culture Festival in Manama on March 1st so all attendees will have the chance to enjoy an array of cultural and artistic events along with the scheduled sessions.


Review of Alexis, a Greek tragedy

9 Jan

Alexis, A Greek Tragedy, a new production by the Italian group MOTUS presented in Under The Radar Festival,is in many ways a theatrical essay on the character of Antigone and its projection into contemporary questions of social dissent. Its premise is simple: who is Antigone today? As we are told in the play the group Motus conducted workshops exploring that question when they heard of the shooting of 15 year old Alexis Grigoropoulos by the police and the subsequent widespread rioting in the centre of Athens in 2008. The group set on a trip to Greece in search of Antigone and collecting information on the events. This quest fed into their workshop process and the result was the creation of Alexis: a documentary theater piece including footage of the riots and the neighborhood of Exarchia (where the shooting happened) interviews with residents and intellectuals of the area, personal thoughts of the group’s journey, rehearsals of scenes from the tragedy interspersed with comments in the artistic process itself, explorations on how facts from the actual events can influence the performance of Antigone. According to its creators, Alexis is a call to action. Oddly, the performance (created in 2010) feels already outdated and surpassed by the reality outside the theater hall: the massive worldwide protest movement makes Alexis seem like a thing of the past (slightly reminiscent of those 1970s experiments at getting the bourgeois audiences out of their comfy seats, only the bourgeoisie has now become the 99%) where action is talked about as a concept while theatrical action itself is absent.

Tragic action-social action

Antigone is focused around the burial of Polynices’ corpse. The statesman Creon has prohibited the burial on the grounds that Polynices is an enemy of the state and Antigone defies his decree and buries her brother on the grounds of familial and religious duty. The dead body and the act of burial trigger a conflict between different sets of responsibilities (to the family and to the state) that a citizen carries in a democracy. In the course of the play the two poles of the conflict (Antigone, Creon) become increasingly fixated in their viewpoints bringing about equally personal and civic catastrophe. In between those two extremes there is a physically present chorus of elderly who maintains allegiance to Creon while trying to inspire some moderation in him, as well as an invisible implied chorus, the body of citizens, who, we are told, support Antigone in her action but are too afraid to speak up.

One would expect that a contemporary attempt to grapple with the figure of Antigone – given especially her popularity in explorations of civic disobedience- would thoroughly dig into the dynamics of the conflict between her and Creon, the significance of the tragic elements (i.e. tragic action, chorus) and the play’s structure (how the characters shift in the course of the play) beyond the easy and overused binary symbolism Antigone=resistance/ Creon=tyranny. It becomes therefore shockingly surprising to see how little thought and exploration of the actual tragedy has gone into Alexis: beyond the premise “who is Antigone today” and few text excerpts, there’s really not any committed engagement with the tragedy itself,its ideas, questions, characters or dramatic structure. As a result, the investigation of who Antigone might be today becomes very problematic insofar as the play limits its interpretation of the tragic character of Antigone to a generic and generalized symbol of resistance stripped of any context. Questions of allegiance and responsibility to civic and private obligations, as well as the character traits that make the tragic heroes hold on to their beliefs beyond self-doubt, give way in Alexis to a romanticized/idealized depiction of dissent, seen as a virtue in and of itself, and an a priori demonization of the state as a mechanism of oppression. What in the tragedy is structural (the state becomes increasingly repressive) in Alexis is essentialized (the state is by definition repressive). In the Greek context where Motus’ production is set, both notions of repression and dissent are a lot more complicated as the former is usually accompanied by extreme lawlessness while the latter, when it is not pure state-sponsored violence, is often lacking in ideological foundation.

With the same ease that the play appropriates Antigone as an unproblematic symbol of resistance, it uses the dead body of Alexis Grigoropoulos as a “stand-in” for the dead body of Polynices. A parallel is drawn between Creon’s proclamation that the warrior’s body is to be left unburied “a feast to the wild birds” and the Greek police’s reaction of shooting and then abandoning the boy’s body in Exarchia square. Here the performance misses a very crucial point: Polynices’ dead body is heavy with meaning: he is a disenfranchised heir to the throne, who came back to claim his rights and now he is proclaimed an enemy of the city; he is a brother, a citizen and a leader and the sum of these conflictual roles and responsibilities render his burial a crucial political issue (in Greek tragedy the personal and the political are always conflated). By contrast, what was tragic about the shooting of Alexis Grigoropoulos was the complete lack of meaning. The shooting was pure accident – the term accident here used in fully existential terms to denote a life being lost at the flip of a coin: the boy, a middle class teenager from the suburbs of Athens who was in that evening hanging out with his friends in Exarchia square, provoked the police, an exchange of insults ensued, the police car followed the kids who threw some empty cans at them, the policeman came out, fired and shot the kid dead. It is precisely the complete accidentality of the event (so reminiscent of Camus’ Meursault shooting at the Arab in The Stranger), the ultimate absence of any serious reason, motivation, meaning, politics or ideology behind this clash between citizen and authority, that caused an unprecedented rioting in the city: it was as if the shooting signaled the eruption of bottled feelings of lawlessness, lack of governance, meaninglessness experienced among Greeks for years, generalized feelings that actions don’t matter and don’t make a difference because no one is ever held accountable even if a life gets lost so absurdly in the middle of the street. The riots that erupted were riots of despair, anger and not protests of change, destructive and hopeless. This in fact was more of an anti-tragedy, closer to the world of Camus’ where meaning is lost, than to the world of tragedy’s multiple negotiations of meanings and significations that are equally valid for their defenders and are worth dying for.

This is why Motus’ exploration of who Antigone is does not go too far (despite rather shallow attempts such as “Antigone is the protesters” or “Antigone is the Exarchia square that still resists”): in forcing their own rather narrow meaning and oversimplified binaries (protesters vs.state) onto reality the performance misses the far more rich and productive complexity of the actual social conflict. A good look into the reality (not only of Greece but anywhere in the world where indignation boils) will reveal the diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints, interests and motivations of protesting, the messy, unclassifiable and conflictual collective as all collectives are in such moments of profound social change. Such a look might have engaged the group into a deeper exploration into finding what are the intricate relations between leader and led that tragedy may be able to illuminate in the dialectic relationship between heroes and hero and chorus. Not doing so and imposing premeditated meanings on such a crucial historical moment instead, is, as one reviewer rightly notes,an indication of irresponsibility. While Alexis raises interesting and provocative questions, it seems that the performance as a whole misses the opportunity, artistic and intellectual, to go deeper into the intersections between tragedy and life.

MedinNYC: happening in the city

16 May

– The Film Society of the Lincoln Center presents the series: Open Roads: New Italian Cinema that will run for one week from the 1st of June until the 8th. The festival will feature old and new Italian film directors including the U.S. premiere of Giulio Manfredonia’s Whatsoeverly ‘a delicious political satire that has become one of the most popular Italian films ever made’. Ticket sales open to the public on May 19th with prices ranging from $7 (members) to $12 for the general public.

From the movie Lost Kisses screening at Open Roads

-At MoMA, the MoMA store features, for a limited time only, the Destination: Istanbul products collection, showcasing contemporary Turkish designers. According to the store’s website “the collection captures the aesthetic of a cultural crossroads where east meets west and ancient meets modern. Istanbul’s celebrated design history is an amalgam of Byzantine and Ottoman influences, blending geometric patterns, rhythmic lines, and vivid colors.” Revenues from products sales will go towards contributing to the Museum’s programs and exhibitions.

-The installation The Hidden Location by Egyptian video artist Hassan Khan will be presented at the Queens Museum of Art, starting May 22nd until August 14th. The 52 minute visual material “takes the city of Cairo and its inhabitants as a container in which disparate scenarios and investigations come to life.” The event will be complemented by parallel activities such as discussions, screenings and a musical performance of the artist following the opening- click here to find out more.

Report from Greece

28 Apr

The mainstream cultural scene in Greece had been, in the past twenty years or so, largely Eurocentric, particularly in the field of theater and performance: the postmodern trends of Germany, new playwriting from Britain, and increasingly American dramaturgy were featuring prominently in every season. Artistic directors of significant institutions, later moved to key positions of state theaters and foundations, would infuse these institutions with their own Eurocentric experiences and sensibilities. The result was a programming that was opening up to the international scene but primarily in a one-way direction: the north-west, at the expense of giving an opportunity to Greek audiences to find out what is happening in the arts scene of their immediate neighbors.
Coming back this time, I am noticing a shift: more and more theaters and institutions start exploring notions of “Greekness” and a collective identity in broader terms, looking beyond the here and now in diasporic or past identities, freed from nationalistic excesses, or exploring the country’s broader Euro-Mediterranean and Balkan history and connections. And while not mainstream, these efforts are gaining ground and being endorsed by prestigious foundations. I cannot say for sure what is the reason for such a shift- surely the sociopolitical changes in the Mediterranean region that bring the Arab world to the fore, and the alienation that the country feels from central Europe as a result of the current harsh European economic policies towards the south, play an important part. But in addition as new theater groups emerge and young artists start making their mark, there seems to be a need for new forms, new texts, new styles and sources of inspiration. It will be indeed of interest to see what artistic forms- if any- and trends beyond Europe’s worn-out postmodernism will emerge to express the contemporary Greek psyche and the country’s tumultuous present. Until then here’s some of the events happening at present that attracted my attention:
-As part of their Cycle Mediterranean, a story of Charm, the new Onassis Cultural Center in Athens, presented the symposium People and the global trade in the Mediterranean’s port cities of Antiquity and the 21st century with artists and researchers from Turkey, Greece and France. The same Center is currently presenting the exhibition Polyglossia, with works by contemporary Greek artists from the diaspora. According to the program the exhibition wants to “shed light on the convergences and divergences (in, for instance, the media chosen or how it is used), both between artists of roughly the same generation in relation to their American or European norms, and between artists of different generations who employ the same means of expression.”

-The Benakis Museum of Islamic Art has brought to Athens the exhibition “The Book of Travels” around the figure of Evliya Celebi, a traveler of the Ottoman Empire. The exhibition was first presented in England, as part of the British Council’s program Our shared Europe, to explore the interconnections between the Ottoman and British Empires. The exhibition at the Benaki museum, set among the museum’s permanent collection, is beautiful in giving details of the architecture, religious practices and daily life in major cities of the Ottoman Empire, through Celebi’s eyes.

-Outside of Athens, in the northern city of Kozani, the Third Festival of Storytelling is devoted on the topics of refugees, immigration and diaspora and will present invited artists from Greece, Cyprus, Albania, France, Lebanon, Armenia and more. You can check it out here:
-The upcoming Thessaloniki International Book Fair, “opens widely a gate to the Mediterranean based on contemporary ideas and current riots with Middle East Festival – when ideas revolt”. It will feature prominent writers such as: Salwa Al Neimi (Syria), Gamal Ghitany (Egypt), David Grossman (Israel), Tuna Kiremitci (Turkey), Hoda Barakat (Lebanon), Deniz Kavukçuoğlu, (Turkey), Sophie Bessis (Tunisia), Boualem Sansal (Algeria), Malek Chebel (Algeria), Bahaa Taher (Egypt) and Subhi Hadidi (Syria). (Stay tuned with the BTS blog for interviews with some of the participating artists).
And last but not least: A celebration of ancient Greek and Byzantine gastronomy with lectures, tasting, recipes and music is coming up at the Lazaridis Estate. Enjoy!

MedNYC: upcoming events in the city

20 Mar

BTSblog selects and brings to you events of interest happening around the city

March 25-27: DIWAN a Forum for the arts: the Arab American National Museum’s biennial conference that brings together Arab American artists and scholars, will take place at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Click here for the schedule.

April 13-16: At Dance Theater Workshop, Juliette Mapp presents The Making of Americans, a contemporary dance work based on Gertrude Stein’s novel and exploring the choreographer’s own Albanian-American roots.

May 16th: Spanish playwright Inigo Ramirez de Haro will talk about Blasphemy in Contemporary Spanish Theater at the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center

Redefining art in a changing world: “artivism”

14 Mar

From February 18th to April 2nd at the Sorbonne in Paris, the Master’s program in Cultural Projects in Public Spaces organizes weekly meetings/discussions on artivism: a concept that explores the intersections between art and politics in the public sphere. According to the organizers

“artivisme is the art of activist artists. It is at times art without artists but with militants. Art that is engaged and engaging, that seeks to mobilise us, to make us take a stance, to propose tolls of action and transformation. Just as the queer proposed the existence of a third gender beyond the male and the female, similarly artivisme suggests that there is a third term between aesthetics and politics”.

While the concept of socially engaged art is not new, it is interesting that it reemerges in public debate and in major institutions at this particular time of major political shifts and economic anxiety in a European social context characterized by depression and insecurity. In that sense it is a very hopeful response, and by no means the only one, that seeks to re-define the role of the citizen/artist.

Click here for more information.

View video [in French]:
Qu'est-ce que l'artivisme ? by artespacepublic

Playwright profiles: Eyad Houssami

19 Oct

BTSblog presents you the playwrights of the first Between the Seas staged readings event.

Eyad Houssami grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia and pursued his Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Studies at Yale University, where he directed seven full scale productions. He has also performed in the dead Byzantine cities in Syria, a beach party twenty minutes north of the Lebanon-Israel border, and a 13th century mansion in Damascus. As a writer, he has contributed to peer-reviewed academic journals, international magazines, and regional dailies. A recipient of Rotary and Fulbright research grants, he earns a living as an editor in Beirut, Lebanon.

What inspired the writing of Mama Butterfly?

During the summer 2006 war in Lebanon, I was evacuated from Beirut by American marines on a ship flanked by Navy warships. Around 1,200 civilian deaths were reported in Lebanon; 44 civilian deaths were reported in Israel. My great-aunt, a widow, chose to stay in Beirut despite having the means to evacuate unlike most. Her decision, my privileged evacuation, and the devastation of war prompted me to write Mama Butterfly, my first play. It is based on a series of interviews conducted in 2007.

How did you get into playwriting and what is the type of theater you are interested in?

I first began writing for the stage while studying performance with Deb Margolin at Yale. I am interested in stories and dreams that unfold in the theatre, the place where, despite a future of screens and speeds so great, we will continue to remember, experience, and preserve our humanity.

What does the Mediterranean mean to you?

Millennia of trade, migration, and empire.

Eyad’s play MAMA BUTTERFLY will be featured in the Between the Seas staged readings, on Tuesday October 19th, 7-8 pm at Solas Bar [232 East 9th str.]