IDEA Magazine, Issue #38, 2011
From 1001 Nights to the Social Arena: On Farid Fairuz and his Tales
by Raluca Voinea, Iulia Popovici
Farid Fairuz made his appearance on the scene in Romania in 2009, becoming the more and more used alter ego of choreographer Mihai Mihalcea throughout 2010 and preparing to almost substitute him from 2011, when the position of director of the National Centre for Dance in Bucharest (NCDB which Mihalcea held from 2005 till 2010) is to be made vacant and the institution to take another – still unpredictable – course. Practically, Farid Fairuz became stronger the more Mihai Mihalcea withdrew inside the administrative shell, the more he was assimilated by the job he was performing, along five years of shows, projects and battles fought for the status and very existence of this institution. Eventually, strengthened by each piece of partition-wall that was falling, more tangible with every symbolic lament with which the artists of the Centre and their friends were mourning the decomposing space, the one who left the building in ruin of NCDB was the fictional embodied, leaving behind the shadow of the real body, stranded in his function of making telephone calls, bringing petition letters, putting order in the papers and feeding, vampirically on Farid, his new, free body.
Actually everything started from a show I was working on, during the platform two years ago, Surfing Twisted E(motions), and suddenly I found myself with this story on me, I had to make a presentation of the show and its author, and I realized I just had had enough of Mihai Mihalcea, who meanwhile has become exclusively identified as the director of NCDB. Everyone suspected me that the whole Farid story was merely a marketing strategy, for the promotion of the show, but it is not the way I'm working, I make things I believe in, which I feel, even if I don't fully grasp everything from the beginning, I am not a studied person.
When I started writing about Farid, things came by themselves, I had the feeling of a beginning, it took me only half of an hour to write his biography, that’s how natural it seemed. Things were connecting too, at that time there were some stories with witches in Cluj, who were bringing the evil out of Romania’s Parliament...
I realized that working on this project, which I only later theorized, I was including in this biography things about myself, which were real, I like very much Lebanese kitchen, the music from that area, which I have listened to for years, I even made a show in 2000, Hammam, Prisoner in the Thoracic Box, based on an author from Morocco, Tahar Ben Jelloun, I could say my interest in this area dates ever since. On the other hand I insist on the fact that Farid Fairuz is a mix, if someone who comes from Lebanon meets him, one might even be offended. Farid is situated in a zone of delirium and maximum freedom of fusion.
From the biography that Mihalcea sketched to Farid Fairuz, he is shaped as a crisis character and at the same time immutable, hard to fit into one pattern but perfectly mixing different patterns’ contradictions, at the fluid borders between assumed exoticism, globalist post-9–11 news-story, reinvented urban shamanism, social satire and never fully vanished ancestral beliefs. His biography explains his accent, partially his looks and eccentricity. At least for those who believe that any uncommon behavior needs an external cause, preferably geographically and temporally remote. For them, Beirut, the origin place of Farid, as well as his apparent immemorial age are enough warranties that he cannot truly disturb their daily drive in their own life, that he is just one image – albeit a moving one – from the register of the spectacle, who will stay there, who, no matter how many scenography tricks takes out of his sleeve, he will not manage to dislocate their comfortable position in the spectators’ seats.
I work a lot with the accidental, and this from Stars High in Amnesia Sky, when I provoked a situation and asked the others to react to it. I have a blind faith in what comes next, although I am completely lost, however I madly enjoy this state of being lost, in which I don’t know what I am to do, and the actions have an effect on me after they happened, when I re-live the show and understand the movements I made.
I find it essential for an artist this crisis moment in which you don’t know what to do next, which is the next step, the pressure is so bad that it makes you take out of the pocket something that you know it works. That moment incites me to the maximum, when you’re swinging between yourself and something else, between the handy clichés and something completely new. I think that if you are resilient, then you discover things which are not in themselves new (I find it a bit arrogant to pretend for originality), but they are new as a situation for oneself. Still, it is tough, this state of having your carpet sliding from under your feet, when you’re pedaling in vain, but if you live with that mood, then things come out, otherwise you quickly fill in something that you have and you keep going, repeating yourself.
For the others however, those who bring their own anguishes to the show and leave with them doubled by those of the artists, those who all of a sudden encountered this unpredictable and unmanageable, often troubling, character, symbolically relegating Farid Fairuz back to the cloudland wherefrom he came is not so simple.
Especially he is not hiding himself in the protective half-shade of the theater hall. He performs in front of the video-camera, with the menacing tone of Bin Laden and the apocalyptic worries of Wikileaks, which he then releases online. In such a performance, Farid recites the poem published in 1894 by Romanian poet George Co?buc, “Our Land We Want”, which message of social rebellion can be appropriated by the contemporary artists, chased away from the spaces (already scarce) they are occupying, employed only when needed for representational reasons.
Another time, Farid Fairuz goes to the mall, the biggest and most polyvalent mall in Bucharest. Here he dances on the cheesy pop music heard from the speakers, he interpellates the visitors upon their reasons for being there, he skates by himself on the artificial skate-ring, he uses all the mall props and reveals them to be as absurd as the ones in the show directed by Farid at NCDB, Farewell! (or About the Discrete Oversights of the Limbic System). Here however, on the private and guarded territory which came to be the substitute of public space, the set is far from the “extra-sensorial fairy show” (as Farid described his spectacle), and it rather resembles a cut from a movie in which both the actors and the public are mere puppies of consumerism. Paradoxically, among the huge plush toys and the cardboard cliffs, it is not Farid who looks misplaced, but the others, for whom normality is represented by carrying one plastic bag with the name of the shop they exit from to the next one they enter.
Farid Fairuz also lies down on the asphalt simulating bloody death, near a Duchampian urinal, and evoking Mihalcea who in his turn, alone or together with his colleagues, practices the body’s lying down in the most diverse places and situations, such as in front of the Ministry of Culture or in the University Square, places in which the fallen body is the only one that can claim political legitimacy.
With his sunglasses and long black beard, with a white gown or a golden cape, with a guru stick or an insane monk’s cross, Farid Fairuz is a disquieting apparition, the character whose presence announces the profound dis-functionalities in society. At the same time, he is the jump made by the artist outside of the professional institution which should represent him, he enters the space where the classical mechanisms of reciprocal legitimation between those who perform and those who assist no longer function.
Farid would like to have more contact with the daily life, with the common spaces and not with this protective bubbles in which shows, exhibitions, etc. develop...
I have the feeling Beirut resembles Bucharest in many ways, I have seen a documentary about the architecture there and about how they are trying to recuperate some spaces which were bombarded, in our case they haven’t been bombarded, there are other reasons for which they look as if they had, but the problematic is the same. Farid will open a small studio in Rahova1, under-Rahova, where to hold classes, where things happen, and especially Farid will no longer take care of the Romanian dance’s fate. He’s not only leaving the Centre [for Contemporary Dance] but also the center [of Bucharest].
The quoted fragments above are extracted from an interview made by Iulia Popovici and Raluca Voinea with Mihai Mihalcea about Farid Fairuz, recorded in the office of NCDB’s director on the 7th of March 2011. On the 21st of March, when the renovation works of the National Theatre (implying the demolition of that part of the building in which NCDB was functioning, along other institutions), a group of artists affiliated to the Centre, together with other guests, have occupied the spaces of the institution and until the 10th of April they have taken possession of their own working place, opening it for others as well, instating it as a model of functioning of a “dynamic space of encounter and production for artists” (from the statement of the participants who formed Occupied NCDB). “Our Land We Want” became an actual and urgent call, to which artists responded with concrete actions, between the rubble and the invisible power causing it bringing their own bodies. On the door of the Director Mihalcea there remained a drawn portrait of Farid Fairuz, who could not be evacuated because his role already was that of hunting down the ghosts of helplessness and submission. Not by chance, one of the last actions performed at Occupied NCDB was an homage to Farid Fairuz.
... A musical homage, played as karaoke, brought by Alexandra Pirici (Mother Shipton in Farid’s fairy show Farewell!...). Until now and although he’s not following gender themes, Farid Fairuz worked exclusively with women performers, an option somehow atypical for the way in which Romanian contemporary dance functions (the productions with such distribution and which are not solos, such as The Illusionists or The Duality, both by M?d?lina Dan, are at least generally gender-concerned).
Farewell! (or About the Discrete Oversights of the Limbic System)(2010) is the creation which introduced ex abrupto Farid Fairuz on the Romanian choreographic scene (the limbic system defines those profound cerebral structures which are responsible for the emotional and, especially, for the behavioral reactions of the individual; in the conceptual appropriation of the term, Farid insists on the impenetrability of the limbic system by the rational logic). Featuring Pirici, Maria Baroncea, M?d?lina Dan, Carmen Co?ofan? and Iuliana Stoianescu, with the exceptional appearance of Farid himself, Farewell!... brought to the foreground not necessarily a break from the aesthetic vision of Mihalcea himself, but its radicalization.
The show restages, recycles, reshapes and hijacks Mihai Mihalcea’s previous choreography work, Surfing Twisted (E)motions, which extremely short life was consumed within the Contemporary Dance Platform in September 2009. The “distribution” respected the same formula with five women (but with C?t?lina Gubandru and without Iuliana Stoianescu) and had started from an intensely arranged version of Stravinsky’s score Le Sacre du printemps (The Ritual of Spring), considered a fire test for contemporary dance, for which it has the same sacred status as The Swan Lake or Giselle in classical dance (one must add that the way it sounded in Surfing... (E)motions, the original source was hard to recognize). The first creation of Mihalcea in Romania since the founding of NCDB (also to be his last under this name) was seen – given the context – by very few people; before, there were Come to the Show and You Get an Extra Burger (a performance with variable composition, realized together with the actress Mihaela Sîrbu), in 2002, and Stars High in Amnesia Sky, in 2003, about the inheritance of communism as corporeal experience, and in 2009 he worked at the Silesian Theatre of Dance in Bytom (Poland), for the show My Song, Best Shoes, the Cake, First Flight, My Friends, the Passport, and the Work I Do..., in which he also comes back to the subject of the bodily experience of personal past, leaving its trace on the present).
In Farewell!..., Farid Fairuz gives up to the classical test of Stravinsky’s ballet, which Mihalcea submitted himself to, favoring instead a mélange of kitsch, grotesque and sublimation of a social status on the edge. It is a sort of passage to the stage of “shaking the adornments”. Le Sacre du printemps is the “story” of pagan ritual, in which a young girl is sacrificed to the gods of the new season by the circle of the wise old men of the community, in front of whom the girl dances for the last time, and Surfing... (E)motions had built a profoundly savage world, implanting in the bodies of the dancers basic magical instincts, a dense net of obscure gestures, faking prophecy, from the magma of which not the hope of rich summer was raising, but a hopeless swamp. In his later show, Farid gives up the metaphor and instead offers to the five feminine performers semi-fictional and concrete identities, turning them into fortune-tellers and witches, thus directly hinting at the parasite obscurantist attitudes from the local public space: Sybilla, Carmen Hara, Vanga Dimitrovna, Mama [Mother] Shipton, Mi-Fei. (As a teaser for Farewell!..., a little before the premiere, the virtual world was agitated by the scandal raised by a conflict between Farid Fairuz and the NCDB director, Mihai Mihalcea, who had presumably kicked out Farid for trying to populate the Centre with fortunetellers and other esoterically-inclined creatures. Farid himself sent, on Facebook and e-mail, messages to an impressive number of people from the performance arts, asking them to answer a questionnaire about Romanian society’s temptation towards the occult and the parapsychological.) With a physical apparition that he keeps for all the occurrences he takes part to (his black, long, hirsute hair and beard, sometimes his golden cape, as well as his transformed voice with the accent between Arab and Yiddish), Farid Fairuz is a master over these invoked spirits, in which costumes, in their turn, are mixed the kitsch, the glitter, the furs, high-heels and remnants from national traditions (the folk costume skirt), as well as the constant wigs. The show is premeditatedly illogic, as it enacts unconscious behaviours generated by impulses of the limbic system, it does not have a precise choreography, being marked by performative improvisation and eventually conveying a strong feeling of collective trance.
In fact, Farid stages a social nightmare, a group abulia, pointed by reminiscences of traumas just as collective (“Who shot at us/after 222?”, “Down with Iliescu!”, “Moldavia is not mine and neither is it yours...”, the fortunetellers are chanting; the contemporary recycling of the cultural-historic national tradition is what Farid Fairuz is intensely concerned with), in a sort of hemorrhagic-entertainment which is absolutely schizoid. The hilarious aspect of what happens on the stage is total, extremely familiar and scary at the same time – one of the witches is carrying smoke with a purse, with a plastic bag, with no matter what, they all titubate on the floor, they are spreading cables, they undress, as an insinuation to the cheap eroticism with which the idea of “performance” is associated in Romania.
These are the limits of Romanian public space’s expectations from the spectacle – Farid insists. The fact that the homage brought to him by Alexandra Pirici was a karaoke-played song of Amy Winehouse was not a playful addition to the series of performances taking place at Occupied NCDB: Farid Fairuz is artistically inhabiting the universe of a popular culture which requires to be approached and attacked with its own weapons, pushed to the extreme, left without the make-up of respectability and turned upside-down as the only possible form of social critique.
1. Rahova is a neighbourhood at the outskirts of Bucharest, mainly with dormitory-blocks and known for its poverty.
2. 22 December 1989.