A two-course feast of theater and dance

BEIRUT: Theatre Monnot is offering up a double serving of drama and dance this weekend. The double-bill begins with Chrystèle Khodr’s hilarious solo theater performance, somewhat confusingly entitled “2007 or how I squeezed my bubble envelopes.”

This is followed by an imaginative, if lengthy, “Space Time Shape.” “2007 or how I squeezed my bubble envelopes” is a unique one-woman show, directed by Farah Nehmé and written and performed (in Arabic, with French surtitles) by Chrystèle Khodr.

The play begins with a rather avant-garde series of verb declensions. “I am happy, you are happy … ” ad infinitum, which may instill dread into the hearts of those hoping for a more traditional performance.

The play quickly picks up momentum as Khodr begins reciting from letters penned to an ex-boyfriend. The more brutally honest her letters, the more increasingly hilarious they become.

What begins as a polite letter of dismissal, saving face after a rejection, morphs gradually into an inspired rant. It’s the sort of thing that most of us have longed to deliver at some point, but would never dare to speak aloud, let alone put to paper.

A series of letters to different men, read aloud by Khodr, comprise the stuff of the play. Khodr’s comic timing and complete lack of self-consciousness often makes the notes tear-jerkingly funny.

Among the high points are a series of lines based on letters of the alphabet – beginning “A is for … ” – which depict the stages of physical and mental decline after a breakup. An increasingly outrageous series of exaggerations, each line is recounted by Khodr in self-pitying moans.

Another particular triumph of the performance is a scene in which Khodr sings her (passionate but tuneless) version of Fairouz’s “Ya Hawa Beirut” into a hand-held tape recorder – complete with line-by-line French translation.

Anyone who has ever been tempted to read someone else’s diary – or laughed at someone dancing in the mirror when they think no one else can see them – will love “2007 or how I squeezed my bubble-envelopes.”

The play is a laugh-out-loud series of mini-dramas and recollections, a reflection of a turbulent life in an unstable environment where personal relationships often fall prey to politics and war, which are by turns funny and sad.

Nadra Assaf’s “Space Time Shape,” the evening’s second performance, is an impressive 17-part dance work performed by the students of Jbeil’s Al-Sarab Alternative Dance School.

Featuring 23 dancers, including Assaf herself, the performance fluctuates in both style and quality. As you might expect from the work of a student dance troupe, the abilities of individual dancers vary as wildly as the score – which veers from classical to ultramodern and back. Some dancers are clearly still in the process of learning. Others display remarkable grace and strength on par with some professionals.

A particular delight to watch is the diminutive Ornella Saliba, whose deliberate, at times breathtakingly graceful, movements draw the audience’s attention to her presence, almost as surely as her distinctive cloud of curly red hair.

The performance makes clever use of the Monnot’s underground theater space, taking place both on stage and on a long runway-like ramp constructed to run above the centre aisle.

Dividing the audience into two sections, with the action taking place between them, this stage design is unusual but effective. But early birds might want to consider putting some space between their seats and the ramp to save themselves a crick in the neck.

Two pieces in particular, both choreographed by Assaf, are likely to make a lasting impression.

“Dancing Duel” is a virtuoso display of showy lifts and twirls by beefy Jimmy Bechara and leggy blonde bombshell Darina Bachaalany.

Featuring Joelle Choueiry, Cristal Farah and Ornella Saliba, “Complete Captivation, Amorphous Anticipation” demonstrates Assaf’s wonderful choreography to good advantage. It centers on a specially designed dress with an enormous train, stretching almost the length of the stage.

The three girls fight and tumble in the fabric, rolling themselves up in it and dragging one another around the stage, shaking it into rolling peaks and troughs under the light until the cloth becomes a dancer in its own right.

They alternate this graceful battle with collaborative passages in which they don the dress all together, via two waist-sized holes in the voluminous skirt. Wearing the dress all at once, the three girls sway in eerie tandem, like a single three-headed organism.

Chrystèle Khodr’s “2007 or how I squeezed my bubble envelopes” and Nadra Assaf’s “Time Space Shape” are on show at the Monnot Theatre until Sunday May 20. For more information please call 01-202-422.

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