Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Throughout the Middle East there is a debate raging about Western engagement. For the most part it’s not about economic engagement, but about cultural engagement. What, if anything, from the West is in the interest of the people of – and often most importantly – the government of, each of the nations which make up the muslim Middle East? How should that culture, those values and the questions they pose, be introduced to the region, city-by-city, person-by-person? What is enough and where are the questions viral and where systematically introduced?
How does art play into this?
I think of art as a given – a take-it-or-leave-it because its ubiquitous in the States. People make what they want to make – or at least they think they do. How many times have I written about the failure of our own artists to stand up for what they believe and, instead, pander to what they “think people want” dumbing down their art and their ideas for fear of challenging viewers, for fear of being rejected in that expression, or, as is too often the case of Federal, State and Local funding, being put out there and then yanked when some Congressman raises a stink about art he or she finds “offensive.” At the end of the day art has to be about courage.
Otherwise its wallpaper.
When you think about the Middle East and North Africa do you think about modern dance? About Hip-Hop? You should. There's a remarkable, startling and inspiring critical mass developing in the Arab/muslim world (they're not the same thing) that centers around the courage of dance, the discovery of dance. Not folk and traditional. Modern, jazz and most of all Hip-Hop. In the past 48 hours I've seen a company from the Ivory Coast talk about the legacy of colonialism, a group from Georgia busting out youthful yet sincere Hip-Hop, a Tunisian company dancing to Samuel Barber's "Adagio For Strings," and so much more. Whether the art is mature or not -- and for the most part its not -- is not the point. What is meaningful is that its emerging at all, and doing so with force and vibrance and courage to say what young people want to say -- and that they're being allowed to say it. It comes in the face of so many doubts and so much of it flies in the face of what we think is going on here. We're wrong. These festivals are the proof of that on endless levels. Its not black and white and its not easy. But the bottom line is its happening.
And that's not wallpaper. Its life. And its astonishing to be a part of.
This trip has been challenge after challenge after challenge. Right now, sitting in the lobby after our show, with photographs of the company being snapped everywhere around me, you can feel it. I can, and will, write about the insanity of this trip -- and it goes beyond anything imaginable -- but this moment is profound and loud and lovely.
They're turning off the lights.
Time to go.