On the 27th of July, choreographer Abd Al Hadi Abunahleh and Studio 8 premiered Wojoud wa Hodoud, a contemporary dance piece, at the National Center for Culture and Arts. Originally a duet devised by Abunahleh and his brother, Anas Nahleh, the piece had first been performed at the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival in Cairo earlier this year. Discussions between the two artists at the end of 2017 would lead to the 8-person performance debuted at the NCCA. Wojoud wa Hodoud incorporates installation art into modern dance and integrates dabke-like movements with street dance to poke at issues ranging from cultural assimilation to human existence itself.

Scene from the performance Wojoud Wa Hodoud

On the night of the debut, the blood moon was fast approaching as people excitedly filed into the theater. Among them were staff members from the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, where the performance’s final rehearsal had been held and where Studio 8 had given a talk about their journey towards Wojoud wa Hodoud. Established in 2014, Studio 8 is a generator of innovative dance pieces and an incubator of the performing arts that provides resources and training to artists within the field. With such projects and collaborations as Wojoud wa Hodoud, Studio 8 seeks to foster the dance, theater, and performance art community in Amman, and is currently in residence at the Mohammad and Mahera Abu Ghazaleh Foundation for Art & Culture. In addition to the Studio, Wojoud wa Hodoud also owes its fruition to cultural research conducted by Abd Al Hadi Abunahleh in South America, Europe, and Africa. Prior to his research, Abunahleh had been working in Amman to connect the street dance community with local art institutions in addition to empowering youth culture through creative projects.

Scene from the performance Wojoud Wa Hodoud

Wujoud wa Hodoud, Arabic for existence and boundaries, is an experimental and existentially exploratory piece that combines technology with the human form, as well as scripted intentionality with spontaneity, into a kinetic narrative of the human condition. The beginning of the segment nicely exemplifies the general principle behind the act: while most of the performers stand on the margins of the installation, a lone dancer is seen bowed on the ground, slapping into it a rhythm that will be sustained and recycled throughout the rest of the performance. Seemingly trapped by unseen borders, he bursts from his shell, only to be pushed back in. The struggle is quite embodied: the tension between a manifest urge to break free and an innate necessity to remain immured is palpable, the spotlight emphasizing this. As other dancers chime in and culturally-specific motions are demonstrated, their tale clarifies itself as one of trying to reconcile the disparate components of a multi-layered identity, an increasingly common conflict in a rapidly globalizing world.

Scene from the performance Wojoud Wa Hodoud

A sense of entrapment is created by a fiberoptic installation by Jordanian visual artist Ren Shallman. Supplanting a conventional stage, wires form the edges of what appear to be two pyramids leaning away from each other. As the performance progressed, the cables would continuously change in color, at some points smoothly and at others quickly. More traditional lighting instruments were also used to illuminate the dancers’ motions and cast dramatic shadows on the set. In coordination with the palpitating fiber optics, this made for a constantly evolving setting as the dancers moved through their stories. The soundtrack to the show, however, was not synchronized with the dancing; instead, an old recording of an Arabic song, an operatic piece, and several atmospheric, almost cinematic sounds helped imbue the performers’ movements with additional meaning and emphasis.

Scene from the performance Wojoud Wa Hodoud

Having lasted an impressive hour and a half, Wojoud wa Hodoud constructed its own world, enclosed within Shallman’s installation, its inhabitants tapping rhythms into the ground and forming human trains that spiraled and stomped and ultimately separated. Yells of “wojoud,” “hodoud,” “kholoud,” (eternity) and “somoud” (perseverance) permeated the cavernous hall during one interval, and pandemonium erupted at another. Consummately, Abunahleh and Studio 8 have produced a performance that, if not immediately accessible to one’s rational facilities, is emotionally comprehensible in its dynamic poignancy.

All images courtesy of Studio 8.