By Margaux Bonnet
« I got the idea at 3 p.m on Friday and we were shooting at 6 a.m the next day. I felt like I needed to do it, so I did. It was very impulsive ».
Since August 22, Beirut has been the theater of important protests in unusual proportion for the country. Starting with a crisis of waste management which led to a collection failure the whole summer and mountains of trash in the Lebanese capital, demonstrations have turned into a global mobilization fuelled by years of exasperation against a corrupted on-its-way-out system that the civil society asks to reform. This movement, aptly-named « Tol3et Ri7etkoun » (« You stink »), has been particularly hopeful so far in that it has succeeded in gathering Lebanese people around common issues beyond individual community, political and social belongings.
It did not take long for art to be involved. When the authorities decided to build a wall to protect Parliament from demonstrators, the population of Beirut turned the wall into a piece of art one hour later. Thanks to Jana Younes, a Lebanese dance film maker, dance is now counting among these artistic initiatives. She decided to take pictures of six dancers (Amanda Abi Rached, Anthony Nakhle, Celine Saliba, Mike Poladian, Pierre Khadra and Sandra Elia) in front of garbage in Beirut and called her series « Dancers Revolute ».
« I wanted to make sure I communicate two ideas. One, that no matter where we are, we can smell it ; no matter who we are, how rich or poor we are, it’s stinking and this is something that bothers us all. Two, I needed to tell our foreign friends and colleagues that no matter how much it’s smelling, no matter how corrupt it is, no matter how grave the crisis is, we are still standing on our feet, we are still performing and surviving with dignity in the most effective and creative way. That is how Lebanese people are, we always find a way to look at the bright side of the dark things ».
Her album, shared on social media, has met with wide success. « The reaction to the pictures proves it, with more than 2000 shares on social media and comments raised like “this is how we do it”, “this is Beirut”, “nothing stands in our way” ».
Dance has long been related to revolutionary actions, as the dancer reaches the most accomplished freedom of expression and release his/her body from any attempt of control. It has been recently used after the Tunisian uprising. The Art Solution collective launched in 2012 the project “Je danserai malgré tout” (“I will dance, no matter what”) and organized dance performances in the streets of Tunis as a form of resistance against radicalism. By using the famous movie « V for Vendetta » quote (« Because a revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having”), Jana has now inscribed the current Lebanese movement into this heritage.
« I used dance to express the current situation because it doesn’t belong to any political party or any religious sect. It is a universal language: you don’t have to know it to understand it, and there is no better way of communicating a message than through body language. That’s what art is there for. Sometimes it raises questions, sometimes it provides answers, but in both ways, it’s mind triggering and that is what artists live to do ».
This was quite a challenge in Lebanon. If all the dancers from the photo are professionals – some for a living, other as a side job, the lack of dance schools and legitimacy granting to the discipline bring a lot of issues for its professional practice and development.
« Unfortunately, dance in Lebanon is still seen only as entertainment, whereas the dancers struggle to show that it is also a respectable form of art. The fact that we don’t have dance colleges, and dance majors doesn’t allow the dancers to rely on dance as a main job. It is also understandable, the country cannot move to the issues of art in general, if the bigger issues are unresolved. The fact that our infrastructure is corrupt, our country is president-less, and our surrounding is at war, seems to be a bigger issue. However, the people who are in this field show to the rest of the world that no matter how chaotic it is, we are managing to create, produce and publicize our art and communicate it with other countries. As a dance film maker, I always have a hard time getting local sponsors to believe in the work in terms of dance, because it is still hard to convince people that it does have something to say. In fact, most of the time, more than words can ».
Jana is ready to continue if more issues come to be faced. She just hopes that next time, it will be to celebrate a win. And so do we !