When we started working on our performance Embraces which was presented in the most intimate space at the Syrian Opera House in 2018, we focused a large portion of its choreography on all types of embraces between bodies: warm and cold embraces; embraces of yearning and sadness; and those with the need for security and reassurance, reconciliation and forgiveness, encouragement and success, loss and grief, triumph and joy; embraces that absorb anger and release tears, and those that simply satisfy the pure desire to embrace. Back then, it did not occur to us that this intimate act, this simple expression of what we feel and want to share with others, could one day expose us to the danger of a lethal illness. We never thought that our next performance might not allow the live participation of the audience whose embraces warm our hearts backstage and by the theatre door.
Today, we live in a reality where we suffer the loss of the simplest things: smiles, other expressions on familiar faces, or even those on unfamiliar faces, who now pass unnoticed, unfelt, and unable to leave an impression. We live without touching hands: with strangers for introductions, with partners for encouragement, or for caresses and tickles. No more gatherings to celebrate a graduation, a wedding, or a birthday, or to share sadness or even walk in a funeral. We, the social beings who cannot live and survive alone, are now experiencing new rules that distance our bodies in public – and no longer shared – spaces, forcing our energy to land in our laps, frustrated and unhappy with its inability to interact with other energies in our little village that turned overnight into a large prison.
As war survivors, we have learned that waiting is another kind of death, it is nothing but a mental state that produces endless conflicts with our current moment. We have also learned that the great difference between acclimating and adapting to an unwanted and uncontrollable adversity and responding and dealing with it day by day does not lie in the internal resistance in the sense of stubbornness, intransigence and ongoing conflict with what does not fit the way we view life, but rather in internal surrender, not in the sense of withdrawal or submission, but compliance and acceptance of the ever-changing flow of life, especially when it is negative. We have understood that we can control nothing but ourselves, and that the key to transform our reactions into meaningful responses or actions, is hung on the door of awareness, and behind that door lies acceptance: It is by accepting the existence of the current moment (the only moment we can really ever own), we are able to take the initiative and do our best to find a way out.
Today, the Corona epidemic comes to teach us the same old lesson, and insists that we learn again that spending our time here and now in discontent and complaint, or in hanging to an uncompromising mindset, or escaping into conspiracy theories or resorting to the victim mindset, or bullying, or denial, or even – in the best case scenario – preparing for what might come, is a mere illusion. We are responsible for what we are facing today: by our persistent damage to the environment, our recognition that the economy is more important than human existence and that personal interest is superior to public interest, our abuse of the technology we invented, and our inability to learn from our experiences. We are responsible, as we have surrendered to our fears, and to the dark sides of our human nature: vanity; greed; discontent; anger, resentment, and violence.
Our choice, which we deem more important now than ever, is to expand and deepen our real sense of objective reality by working to develop and improve our emotional intelligence and mental resilience. This will happen when we learn more about our mind, expand our awareness of our bodies, observe and reflect on what happens inside and outside of us, until we find reasonable ways to deal with our reality and respond to its rapid developments. We believe that it is necessary to conduct artistic research to rediscover our capacity of expression, and access unknown spaces in our selves, our expressive methods, and our orientations, both intellectual and artistic.
This choice distances itself from suggesting fast, guaranteed, and accessible alternatives; and from replacing old methods and ideas with new ones. Rather, we are approaching rediscovery and understanding, and going beyond what we know – or think we know – about who we really are, what we want to say, and how we can share our experience with our society today, here, and now. Here we are, exploring a question well-articulated by Peter Brook in The Shifting point: “Whatever the cost, a man marshals everything at his disposal to skid away from the simple recognition of how things are. What is this extraordinary phenomenon at the very root of our way of existing? Is any other subject so urgent, so vital for us to understand now, today?”
Damascus, September 2020