We Love Arabs

Theatre
3 out of 5 stars
We Love Arabs 2017 Melbourne Festival supplied production still photographer credit Gadi Dagon
Photograph: Gadi Dagon

This anxious dance work about Jewish/Arab relations is equally a satire of contemporary dance

There is an urgent anxiety to Hillel Kogan, the choreographer and writer of We Love Arabs. He has, he tells us with the rattling stream of thought of someone caught up too much in his own head, been thinking about his artistic process. 

Wherever your body is in space, he says, there is a totally specific way your body should move. A choreographer, then, cannot simply impose themselves and their preferred movement into a space: they must listen to that space, and respond. And sometimes, he says, this means the space will reject you. You, your body, your movement, is not what this space needs. 

What this space needs, he says, is an Arab. But a choreographer cannot simply find someone in Tel Aviv who is both an Arab and a trained dancer. No no no, it is much more complex than that. Or at least, Kogan tells us, it should be – until Adi Boutrous appears, and suddenly there is an Arab in the space. Where Boutrous came from, Kogan isn’t sure. But never mind: he is here now. Kogan can proceed.

We Love Arabs is a satire: on the state of Israel, on the political anxieties of those on the left, and on the creation of meaning through dance. Throughout the 55-minute run time, Kogan appears to barely pause for breath: it is just one thought after another, falling over and into themselves. He talks about his and Boutrous’ bodies, the way they move through space, the ways they are the same and they ways they are different. He talks about finding a way to dance which perfectly represents himself and which perfectly represents Boutrous; he talks about finding the way to show the ways they are identical, the ways they are different, the walls which divide them; he talks about how they need each other, how they need to show that to the audience, how the audience needs to understand he is Jewish and Boutrous is Arab, how the audience needs to understand everything this means. He talks about how he doesn’t like to use many words in his work.

Meanwhile, Boutrous spends most of the work silent. While Kogan wears a microphone, Boutrous doesn’t. His words – when Kogan allows him to get a word in edgewise – are quiet and clipped. Mostly, we learn of Boutrous in exactly the way Kogan would like us to experience the whole work – if it weren’t for his anxieties of creation and politics getting in the way – through his dance. Boutrous travels with the angles and freedom of parkour and street hip-hop; a world away from Kogan’s studied presentation of contemporary dance. But we are only able to guess at the history of this training.

The work is, mostly, overwhelming and exhausting in its anxiety. It spills out of Kogan and consumes the space; Bourtous’ quietness and studied energy – along with occasional smirks and raised eyebrows – are the work’s relief.

In the end, there are two We Love Arabs: the version we see for most of the run time, riddled with words and anxiety, and then the final dance, the work Kogan strived to create – a duet danced to Mozart, under blue lights and a plume of smoke. It is over-studied and overwrought; its aim for metaphor too literal, its dancers too introspective and removed from the audience. It is, in short, hilarious. And so it is that in a satire about Arab/Jewish relations, the biggest target of all is the world of contemporary dance.

 

By: Jane Howard

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