Singapore Fringe Festival 2019
“Hanane, a fifty something year old Lebanese actress and citizen, exercises daily to avoid osteoporosis, obesity, and depression. As she takes walks through both secluded and open spaces in Beirut, she revisits dreams, desires, hopes, disillusionments, characters, and roles most of which reveal themselves to be contemporary Medeas with whom she shares some commonalities. The effects of this daily routine of jogging are contradictory. Her body is stimulated through exercise with two hormones, dopamine and adrenaline, both alternating between destruction and construction. Their natural cycles within Hanane woman, wife and mother echo that of her city, one that destroys to build and builds to destroy.”
Photo credit: Marwan Tahtah
This is a show that you do not know what to expect, but may have some ideas, based on the show description you may have read. However, Hanane Hajj Ali who crafted and performs the solo show leaves you with enough things to think about for several days after seeing it. This is the best kind of theatre – it provokes as much as it entertains and then you tell everyone you know to go and see this show!
French Lebanese performer Ali is already in action when the audience enters the theatre. She is warming up, on her back, stretching, legs and arms circling, she acknowledges the audience, who chat and get settled until the official time to start the show and by then, the audience is full.
Wearing an all black tunic, leggings, shoes and hijab veil covering her head, the wide stage space is delineated by her props to provide an area to contain her show. Objects placed on the stage include a stool, a piece of red fabric, a tray, a few small containers, etc. this is the stage set. Nothing more is needed – just Ali!
Her final warm up activity is to prepare her voice and she gargles, makes sounds and forms garbled words, which suggest that she is stretching the limits she is used to in some places because she finds creative ways to say what she means, but it is not immediately recognizable – then you realise what she is saying, and you are entering her world. Ali seems to delight in this manner of expression, which yields some very serious words, and we accept the invitation.
Speaking in Arabic with a smattering of English and French, surtitles translate throughout. This, it happens, is not too difficult to understand because Ali is animated and physical in her performance. Sometimes it’s hard to glance back to read what she is saying because what she is doing is so fascinating!
With an expressionless face, the first story is about how she went to vote where she lives, in Lebanon. Unfortunately, her name was not on the voting list and she was unable to perform her civic duty. This and other stories show what it is to express one’s opinions as a person, a woman and as a creative artist.
Ali performs this show in many countries and shares her experiences, many of which differ from those of our own daily lives. As a fifty something woman she jogs around Beirut, the capital city of her home country. Jogging will keep her strong, avoid osteoporosis and depression, therefore, it will help her build her body and mind. Is this as easy as it sounds? Ali jogs daily and sees changes in neighbourhoods, her city and country, she also thinks of the present, past and future that include dreams and disillusionments. Working to build one’s body and mind by exercise and lifestyle can just as easily be reversed – as it is for a city to build itself and be broken down by different influences and events. Ali narrates as she jogs and exercises, breathes and stretches her arms. It’s stream of consciousness speaking, step by step, crouching, folding into and out of yoga poses.
Ali becomes Medea performing Medea’s heart wrenching speeches. Ali also portrays two contemporary women who have experienced hardship and angst. In these moments Ali goes deep, melts into the characters playing a wide range of emotions from raw anger to pointed, poignant and moving. Ali’s characters involve depression and madness, and are also plaintive, strong and sensual.
Humour, from a bit of erotic movement, creative interactions with the audience – together with clownesque and buffonesque characters with their traits of movement, mindset, spoken words and a few small props are superbly integrated in this show.
Ali is a master on stage, she is free and on her own terrain in this fictional reality. Her expert physical storytelling style and intense stories vividly illuminate the risk people take to do everyday things or to create art. If you have a chance to see her show, Jogging, as she tours around the world, go, it’s a must see show!
Concept, Text and Performance Hanane Hajj Ali
Director and Scenography Designer Eric Deniaud
Dramaturg Abdullah El Kafri