The size and architecture of the floor space at the Townhouse gallery gives it a lot of scope to mould and create a certain ambience. On 27 April, on the opening night of the project Force Majeure, the space was separated into different sections by various patterned blankets hung from the wall. This helped with the concept of having multiple performances in one night.
As I enter I find several pieces of video art and a welcome from Adham Hafez wearing a gallabeya (a traditional Egyptian garment), who is one of the organisers and introduces himself as “the other.” Cushions are strewn around and further along grass covers the floor.
Force Majeure, is a part of a larger project called ‘Miniatures Officinae’ which started in 2008 and ends in 2013 in Marseilles. The project, supported by the EU, is a collaboration of several countries in the Euro-Med region, with each country hosting the project for a year.
This year, Haraka Dance Development and Research are the hosts. Ahmed Moez another of the organisers, describes the idea behind the miniatures.
“Miniatures are a type of art, where a very small piece of work conveys a deeper meaning,” Moez explained. “It goes back to the Ottoman period,” he continued and said that this type of art is mainly for paintings. “This was the challenge for our artists,” he said. “They had to turn the idea into performance art pieces.”
The theme of this year’s project was Love and Otherness, however with the recent political events in the region, the title was changed to Force Majeure.
Force Majeure is a legal term for the conditions in which contracts are null and void, including war, riots, martial law, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. "That meant we were released from our contract,” said Adham Hafez, “yet we still went ahead as we were so interested in it.”
The eight participating artists, (two Tunisians couldn’t make it to Egypt), are from Spain, Italy, France and Egypt. Four performances will take place each night.
Christophe Haleb one of the artists, choreographed a piece in the grass section. Several men moved around in slow motion, sometimes lying on the grass and stroking it and communicating with others through hand and body movements.
“The part I enjoyed most about working on this project is meeting young people from the region,” said Haleb. “The idea was to show the variations of distance and what intimate and non-intimate spaces entail,” he continued. “What is privacy and what is public space were the ideas we tapped into.”
During the performance a young man named Hassan Farid repeated the words, “If I were there.” Farid later explained he meant Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the recent Egyptian revolution, as he was out of the country. Enthusiastically he told me that this is his first performance art experience.
Rhuena a former gymnast, performed an act of different acrobatic movements, where she stayed in each position for a long time.
“When people perform acrobatics,” she said, “their movements are so fast you can hardly see the movement itself, their facial expression and the tension of their muscles. It’s only in photographs that you see that.”
During her research she looked at many photographs of gymnasts for inspiration. One of the most important was a still-shot from a documentary about sky jumping by the German filmmaker Werner Herzog.
Video works included Love Dance by Shaymaa Aziz, an animated piece of charcoal on paper that showed two lovers and the awkward and hesitant movements they make when touching amongst the prying eyes of society.
Leo Castro a Spanish artist, took footage of several individuals around Cairo while narrating their possible thoughts and worries.