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Tayeb Saddiki and the Re-invention of Tradition in Contemporary Moroccan Theatre: An Obituary

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Saddiki’s approach to theatre underwent a distinct change in the mid-1960s, reflecting his growing consciousness of the traumatic wounds that were inflected upon the Moroccan subject by the colonial enterprise. His transplantation of the techniques of the traditional open-air circle performance al-halqu and particularly the dynamics of the more intimate social satires L’bsat to a theatre building created major experiments in postcolonial hybridity. Saddiki provided constant reminders of the potentials of such hybridity in re-examining and revising power positions between East and West. He was well aware of the fact that the introduction of European theatrical traditions had been utilized as a means to bring the East back to the West, and that theatre in the Arab world was from the start “deterritorialized,”or rather trapped in an ambiguous compromise and confronted with the necessity to interpolate between different performance cultures and discursive structures. His solution was not a return to any illusive authentic state, but rather a creation of what Homi Bhabha calls ‘thirdness’ as both a ‘desovereignizing’ and ‘aporitical’ space and an openness of ‘binarity.’ It is precisely this openness that made Saddiki’s project an urgent call for transcending the polarities East/West within a global environment.

In one of his first plays, Diwan Sidi Abder-rahman Al-Majdub (The Collection of Master Abder-rahman Al-Majdub, 1966) Saddiki deployed the acting strategies typical to Moroccan performances. In recovering the al-halqa tradition, Saddiki’s theatre became more and more inventive and self-reflexive, even as this retrieval was negotiated within the paradoxical parameters of appropriating and dis-appropriating the Western models of theatre-making that were introduced to the country at the turn of the twentieth century. Al-Majdub represents the emerging postcolonial theatre practice in Morocco. The transposition of al-halqa, as an esthetic, cultural, and geographical space, into a modern theatre building is in itself a political act that reflects the hybrid condition of postcolonial subjects. In speaking of its inspiration, he later wrote:

After adapting about thirty plays, I was overwhelmed by the idea that this is a transplanted theatre that does not reflect the inner self of Moroccans. Then, a new journey started along with people, their surroundings, and collective imaginary . . . I enjoyed people’s stories and myths . . . It was in this context that I discovered the 16th century poet “Al-Majdub.” His poetry was not written, but transmitted orally amongst people in every Moroccan home. Then, I started assembling his verses and re-writing them in a dramatic way. That was the birth of the play entitled Sidi Abderrahman Al-Majdub, a drama that won an exceptional success in Morocco.

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