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  • Ali Chahrour’s ‘Iza Hawa’ is a love letter to a Beirut in tumult


Ali Chahrour’s ‘Iza Hawa’ is a love letter to a Beirut in tumult

For Ali Chahrour, performance is a commitment to showing love in a time of war. We spoke to the Lebanese choreographer about his upcoming performance piece 'Iza Hawa' at HAU.

Photo: Lea Skayem

At the centre of the artistic practice of Ali Chahrour is Beirut, the city where he lives and creates, and love, the overriding focus of his last half-decade of work. The 34-year-old globetrotting choreographer and theatremaker marries these two passions in Iza Hawa, a piece whose Berlin premiere will be presented as part of HAU’s ‘Love is a Verb – A Festival on Ways of Relating’. With Iza Hawa, which can be translated from Arabic both as “if one loves” and “if one falls”, Chahrour collaborates with an iconic couple of Lebanese theatre – the storied 83-year-old actor, author and theatremaker Roger Assaf, and lauded actress, playwright, and director Hanane Hajj Ali – to depict through dance their charged relationship with their city in tumult.

What is the relationship with Beirut that Iza Hawa explores?

I call it a love letter. The performance serves as a tribute to the city, as well as to beloved ones. On stage there’s a couple who have been married 30 years, and they’ve experienced Beirut’s ups and downs: its collapse, its golden age, and now they’re witnessing its current demise. So the performance stands as a final declaration of love for the city we adore, even as it crumbles before our eyes. At the same time, it is love as a statement as well.  Because nowadays, the only thing that’s left for us – as cliche as it sounds, but it’s true – is love. So we try to just hold tight.

Hanane Hajj Ali, Ali Chahrour and Roger Assaf (left to right). Photo: Carl Halal

Do you think about accessibility to an international audience when you’re creating work grounded in your city, for people who might not be so familiar with Beirut?

Regardless of its origins or influences, the essence of this performance revolves around themes of love, ageing and human feelings in general. For sure, there are the layers for the people who know who the performers are and what they did for the city and history of Lebanon. But I don’t think anyone in the world needs [those] references to relate to a love story or to human emotions or stories of a mother and father in relation to their city. And when I create a performance, personally, I don’t think about the audience or which audience I’m addressing. I created it in Beirut and I do it for the local audience. I don’t think how the audience in Germany or wherever in the world might deal with it affects my artistic approach. It’s for the audience to take and deal with in the way they can relate to it.

The performance stands as a final declaration of love for the city we adore, even as it crumbles before our eyes.

What does it mean to be performing this piece in Berlin at HAU in 2024?

I understand performing in Germany to be a big question, coming from Lebanon – especially the south of Lebanon – since October 7 and all the events happening in Palestine and Lebanon – people being killed in Palestine in the thousands and my village being bombed. But since all of this, we need more than ever before to share our stories. Not only to share a story and like it on Instagram, but to say, these are our voices, and to make those voices heard by the world and heard by the people and governments who are supporting the genocide – though I don’t know if you can say this in Germany.

Photo: Lea Skayem

I see now there is more need than any time before to be on stage and sharing our story. The role of theatre – and the role of art and dance – is to make our stories heard. Refaat Alareer, a Palestinian writer who was killed on December 7, wrote, “If I must die, / you must live / to tell my story”. And at the end of the poem, he says, “[let it be] a tale”. For me, [that] also means “make it a performance”. Make it the best performance we can find it in ourselves to create. This is the quality of our resistance.

  • Iza Hawa, Apr 17 and 18, HAU (starts 20:30), details.