Beirut Spring Festival: An Intimate Debutant, Creative and Innovative Festival

Nelida Nassar  06.03.2014

Beirut Spring Festival, a repertory festival in its sixth edition is a debutant among the Lebanese festival scene, presenting a wealth of new acts in various artistic genres. Situated in the city of Beirut, Lebanon, this five-day festival showcase is perhaps a little cozier than its raucous (and typically large) counterparts that most of us have become accustomed to. Nevertheless, such an intimacy presents a slightly different proposition. Its diminutive size allows to feel connected to the city mates, despite not knowing whether they are pleased by the same offerings.

Funded by a foundation and private sponsors, what makes this festival unique to Lebanon is that it is the only one free of charge, within reach of everyone and open to all audiences. It does not promote the agenda of any corporation or institution and sustains itself through the efforts and commitment of Gisele Khoury and Randa Asmar from the Samir Kassir Foundation. Its selection is a creative exploration of great works of dramatic imagination, rediscovered and reinvented for each generation, in order that it may continue to entertain, enlighten and inspire audiences of all ages. It is a philanthropic festival in the purest sense of the term, a festival of art for art sake.

The Festival perpetuates freedom of the press, tolerance, cultural diversity and Samir Kassir’s memory. A slain journalist and author, he was among Lebanon’s finest intellectuals, a sort of visionary. His wish was to present Beirut as a beacon of freedom, art and culture in the Arab world. The Festival offers a selection of arty genre where a premiere takes place in the city for one evening only. It is committed to maintain and promote the highest level of artistic excellence, to cultivate the widest possible audience and to provide workshops related to education and training for Lebanese artists.

The opening day without question, the most eagerly anticipated event is Gravitational Waves an outdoors dance by Fabrice Guillot and its French Company Retouramont. It is staged in Vincent Bredif custom-designed 4-tubes sculptural installation. The performance incites the viewer to partake in a grand scale sonorous experience of public space. It invites the spectator to observe a gravitational, visual, choreographic and audible reverie. The experimentation transforms regular perceptions while unraveling their invisible and inaudible parts using 3-D projections and the intuitive real time Module8 dynamic media.

Gandini Jugglers performs a mesmerizing mix of unusual juggling act called Smashed choreographed by the British artist Sean Gandini. 9 skilled jugglers and 100 red apples are juggled with dexterity and agility. This is a subtle mélange of theatricality inspired by Pina Bausch dance theatre. But one can feel the tensions between body and mind, distraction and concentration, chaos and orderly patterns threatening to detonate, and they do in a finale of smashed dinner plates, which is as terrifyingly fierce as it is funny. Concurrently evoking pleasure and disquiet, Smashed lightly disrupts the rigid conventions through a series of nostalgic filmic scenes exploring conflict, tense relationships, lost love and afternoon tea. Performed with meticulous unity, this funny, inventive work challenges our perceptions of contemporary mime and juggling.

To commemorate the freedom of the press, Voices of Hostages testimonials by abducted journalists that risked their lives to uncover the truth in Syria will be discussed. Italian-Syrian journalist based in Beirut and Jerusalem Suzanne Dabbous account –  kidnapped in 2013 for 8 days – and the equally poignant chronicle of Paris correspondent Swedish Magnus Falkehed – captured for 5 weeks of the same year – will be heard. Attention will be drawn to their courage and determination in view of the risks and psychological pressures they encountered.

The powerful piece of theatre Our Fathers by the British group Babakas founded in 2010 will present a journey through fatherhood past and present, full of inventive comedy and unforgettable emotion. Using humor, film footage and diary entries as a stimulus, the ensemble explores the relationship that was cut short between father and son by the father’s death. A daring exploration of homosexuality, the play also shows how divided the world seems around this issue when there are such extremes being played out within Europe, and further afield around the world. A devastatingly subtle presentation, one that creeps up to provide a climax that overpowers and outweighs emotion. It garnered numerous awards and was the real gem of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The festival will conclude with rapper Nasser Deen Al Touffar Salt and Blood concert. Born in Ain Baalbeck, Al Touffar begins his career with the recording of Asshab El Ard ‘Friends of the Earth.’ The album revolutionized the alternative Lebanese music scene. Numerous solos with contributing musicians followed. They focused on social and political themes. Given its willingness to tackle difficult subjects, the artist will chant rhythmic lyrics about freedom and will be accompanied by Sayed Darwish and the group Hello Psych Aleppo.

The growing Beirut Spring Festival audience is further proof that the Lebanese are strongly connected to art and culture. The viewer will take as much or as little as they want, while enjoying the inventiveness of the programming. Those attending this year would be hard pushed to disagree – that this Festival lives up to the ethos of being all about the arts, whilst throwing an extra in for good measure (namely the impact the festival has on foreign artists that remember their visit to Lebanon as an unforgettable experience,
and the accounts of the imprisoned journalists that leaves a unique imprint on the Lebanese audience). A must see!

Tuesday 3 June 2014 – 9.00 p.m
Souks of Beirut, Ajami Square.
Gravitational Waves: Dance by French group Retouramont

Wednesday 4 June 2014 – 9.00 p.m
Tournesol Theatre
Smashed: Juggling and Mime by British group Gandini Jugglers

Thursday 5 June 2014 – 9.00 p.m.
Dawawine, Gemmayze
Voices of Hostage: Conversation with journalists Susan Dabbous and Magnus Falkehed

Friday 6 June 2014 – 9.00 p.m.
Babel Theatre
Our Fathers: Play by British group Babakas

Saturday 7 June 2014 – 9.00 p.m.
Place Sami Kassir
Salt and Blood: Rap Concert by Libano-Syrian Nasser Deen Al Touffar

http://www.beirutspringfestival.org

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