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Body Politics in Adham Hafez Company’s 2065 BC

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The original 1884 conference assembled the world’s major European colonial powers of the time, including Portugal, France, England, and Germany.  At the conference, European diplomats sought to strategize the seizure and redistribution of African resources, with particular interest in the extremely fertile Congo River Basin.  Fast forward 180 years to 2065 BC, and the fictional and seemingly matriarchal dominion of Arsika holds the power to reallocate the Earth’s resources, which have been seriously depleted after a third World War.

As audience members enter the theatre, they are given an Arsikan “passport” (which doubles as the performance program).  Immediately visible is Samir Kordy’s simple set for the first act, consisting of a conference table covered in stacks of paper and a single dais with a microphone.  Visual Score and Lighting Designer Nurah Farahat’s disorienting collages of women’s faces flicker onto the walls behind the set.  Meanwhile, Sound Composer Ahmed Ghazoly’s layered and garbled recordings of feminine voices announces the conference’s commencement.  Though things appear slightly foreign in this imagined future, 2065 BC brings up the same questions of occupation, access, and power that undergirded the infamous original conference nearly two centuries ago.

Adham Hafez Company members Charlene Ibrahim, Alaa Abdellateef, and Mona Gamil]

Adham Hafez Company members Charlene Ibrahim, Alaa Abdellateef, and Mona Gamil.

Stylistically, 2065 BC deconstructs the Berlin Conference into a series of gestural sequences.  Performers Mona Gamil, Alaa Abdellateef, Salma Abdel Salam, and Charlene Ibrahim sit astutely at their conference table, shuffling papers until each takes her turn at the dais.  When Gamil rises to speak, she counts slowly to 130, confronting the audience with the aggressive monotony of her voice and facial expression.  This monotony returns at different intervals throughout 2065 BC, and is at once a frustrating and thought-provoking theatrical choice.  Indeed, the tedious vocal formality and measured physicality of the fictional diplomats – who carry themselves almost as if they are cyborg flight attendants – serves as a distancing device.  Throughout the conference reenactment, the inability of the audience to halt the monotony calls up Hafez’s core questions around the ethics of occupation.  Further alienating the audience are the female diplomats’ costumes (designed elegantly by Nermine Said), which sew together elements of contemporary high fashion, Victorian headwear, and colonial khaki.  Although they may challenge the audience, the familiar-yet-strange elements of the acting and design are among the production’s most critical strengths.

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