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MA'AT for Contemporary Dance -- 'Temporament'

Concept and Choreography by Karima Mansour
Music by Ahmed Compaore

by Carmel Morgan

March 4, 2009 -- The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Family Theater, Washington, D.C.

The Kennedy Center presented a special series of performances and exhibits titled “Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World” during March 2009.  Among the over 800 Arab artists involved in this series was Karima Mansour, Artistic Director of MA’AT for Contemporary Dance.  Mansour, who has a BA and MA in Dance from the London Contemporary Dance School and also a BA in Film from Cairo’s Academy of Arts, founded Egypt’s first independent contemporary dance company in 1999.  Her company, which has performed at various international festivals, develops choreography and organizes dance film screenings. 

Mansour’s “Temporament” is described, in part, in the program notes as a “game that takes place between music and dance, dancer and musician, while echoing the differences and shifts of forces of these two beings occupying the space.”  The duet, performed by Mansour and musician Ahmed Compaore, was created in 2002 for the Dansem Festival in Marseille, France, and won the “Prix de Jury” for Best Work at the Cairo Dance Theatre Festival in 2004. 

“Temporament” began with Compaore amidst a clutter of percussion instruments – mostly carefully placed drums and cymbals.  At the back of the stage was a long, narrow white drape, like a cascading roll of paper towels, behind which the performers emerged.  Compaore carried an extra drum onto the stage, and then he carried Mansour slumped over his shoulder, as if she were simply another of his instruments.  Both Mansour and Compaore went barefoot and wore simple tops and pants.

Compaore manipulated Mansour like a doll, arranging her limbs as if he were tuning an instrument.  He fashioned a cymbal atop her head like a hat and started to literally play her, tapping not only her head, but also her butt and thighs.  What resulted was a game.  With these little taps Compaore rhythmically hit Mansour and also himself.  Mansour began to make sounds as he continued to adjust her limbs.  Her “ooohs” and “aaahs,” which increased in intensity, comically resembled sexual vocalizations.    

Other games followed.  This series of lively games mimicked, perhaps, some kind of journey.  The two performers moved easily between the sections of the work, which acted like stanzas of a poem.  The work, according the program notes, was inspired by a poem by Aragon.       

At different points Mansour and Compaore were wrapped in an extremely long reddish brown cloth.  Initially he covered her completely with the cloth to silence her.  Although she struggled, he could not keep her from dancing.  Mansour’s hips and feet jostled from under the fabric.  Toward the end of the work, Mansour covered Compaore in the cloth as he played the drums.  When he moved forward, away from his pile of instruments, the cloth stretched taut, and he became caught in it like fly in a spider’s web.  She straddled the cloth with her leg, taking the upper hand.   

In another game, the pair spun cymbals on the floor like tops.  In pretty pools of light by lighting designer Saad Samir, the golden cymbals rattled and then crashed in a reverberating symphony.  At first, Mansour grabbed the cymbals impishly from Compaore’s grasp and distributed them around the stage, setting them into spins that Compaore dashed to stop with a stomp.  Later, he joined in the spinning, creating a visual and musical treat.

In yet another game, Mansour placed her hands in the sleeves of a large white shirt that Compaore wore.  The couple stood together, arms lifted, hands palm to palm.  Glued in this manner, but avoiding direct eye contact, they did a small waltz that picked up speed.  When they tried to move in opposite directions, more of the work’s comic elements exploded.  Yet there was darkness, too.  Later, the shirt became a twisted rope from which to hang oneself, or choke and strangle another.

With their faces remaining relatively blank, Mansour and Compaore took on the epic roles of man and woman.  Throughout the performance, they took turns manipulating each other, evoking interesting power dynamics and seemingly relaying a strong message about the position of women in Arab society.  The performers were equals on the stage, but no biography of Compaore appeared in the printed program.  One could not help but wonder if this was a purposeful omission.

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