Electric Night at LaMaMa Moves x New York Arab Festival
By Austin Marquez
The Ellen Stewart Theatre was buzzing with artists pondering identity and “other-ness” through futurism and explorative performances during the Lime Rickey/3rd Body shared program for a La MaMa Moves and New York Arab Festival partnership. Allow me to recount the showings from the very beginning.
Artist Leyya Mona Tawil, performing as Lime Rickey International, begins the night standing with her back to the audience as we enter the realm she is inhabiting. There are already dissonant and distorted noises spilling through the air and 2 spotlights shoot diagonal pathways across one another, creating the environment of the playground Tawil will explore. Her performance begins as she struts the diagonal towards her sound system and interacts with the instruments —singing into the microphone, shifting materials around that respond with frequencies to create a futuristic and discordant soundscape that was continuously altered by her voice and movement. While the sound design never quite reaches a traditional harmony for the audience, Lime Rickey’s movement is far more intentional to the eye as she wanders through the space executing gestures and phrases that seem to be slashing through the sounds enveloping the space—maybe searching for answers buried within the waves.
The description explains that Lime Rickey is shipwrecked and performing “future folk songs and dances from a homeland yet to exist.” Towards the end of the exploration, Lime Rickey begins executing elements of the Arabic folk form Dabke, a dance often performed at celebratory gatherings, and there is a shift in the energy of her performance. It seems that she is using these steps to connect to the space around her, treading towards a sense of identity that she has been searching for within the atmosphere she has landed in. It’s one of the more active and high impact moments of the performance where there is an element of urgency in her actions with the percussive footwork patterns and strong focus in her gaze. I can’t help but conclude that the connection to Tawil’s own culture feeds this shift in urgency and importance. If she is in fact dancing for a non-existent homeland, it seems like these steps are connecting her to the soils of that forthcoming home—grounding her to the new environment where tradition and innovation co-exist. Between the vibrant lime green wig and lime green accents on her dress, the vibrations from the high pitch frequencies of the sound compositions, and the explorative movement, I found all the stimulation transported me into the world Lime Rickey had landed in. After the initial sensory overload, I was no longer questioning what it was I was observing, and instead succumbed to splashing through the waves she was smashing through.
The night continued with 3rd Body, created and performed by Nora Alami and Jadd Tank, two Arab-American artists designing simulations through dance that dissect identity politics and culture. These simulations are distinct from one another and varied in energy, movement and spectacle. The pair start off the experience wrapped and taped up in plastic cocoons, breaking free from the confines at different paces and efforts—eventually moving into a two person rave complete with pulsing house music. At this point, it is clear that I am aboard a journey that will lead me to ponder, perceive and play along with these artists. The dance play invites the audience into the performance at multiple points—once when they break the fourth wall to hold a “podcast” style lecture performance discussing topics like political correctness and dehumanization. Four audience members are given cards to read off of that declare the topics the artists will discuss. The next audience interaction takes place when Tank improvises “movement research” based off the lecture held and brings an audience member to study throughout his solo. The final interaction allows members of the audience to take the performance floor with flashlights and shine light on areas of the stage they find interesting, all while the artists perform what could be perceived as their take on a magic carpet ride a la Aladdin.
I participate in 2 of these moments, reading off one of the cards and taking a flash light to explore the stage. I feel that being invited to participate so frequently takes away the possibility for me to not partake in the topics being presented—whether that be verbal or in my own mind. 3rd Body continuously draws the mic away from their own mouths and turns it towards the audience, reminding us that we must not remain complacent—that we are part of the bigger conversations. Joining the performance acts was a reminder that it is dire to confront the repercussions that this country’s actions have had on the Arab community and their humanity. It is a gift to be able to shine a light on the vulnerability of Alami and Tank’s performance, as well as be part of celebrating their identity, lived experiences, and community. Alami and Tank have infectiously warm personalities that radiate out of the performance space and into the audience. Their personal connection to one another is undeniable, giving them the ability to take what many would consider “taboo” commentary and make it light-hearted and at times even silly. Being able to do that while still getting to the root of topics like the dehumanization of Arabs in America post 9-11 is an impressive feat that they tackle with ease. When they take their final bow, I have grown much closer to these two artists and simultaneously feel like our time together has gone by far too quickly.