Kawa (Coffee)

Performed by Hafiz Dhaou
Choreography by Hafiz Dhaou and Aicha M’Barak
Unity Theatre
Tuesday 5th July 2011

Reviewed by Laura Naylor

Admittedly, I’m more of a tea person, however, upon reading that this performance would have the aroma of real coffee floating about the auditorium, I was intrigued.

I took my seat and saw a pile of 1000 teacups on the floor – I’m not Rain Man, that’s what it stated in the programme. As the lights went down, haunting music began to play and extracts from Mahmoud Darwish’s Memory for Forgetfulness were shown on the wall behind. It was very dimly lit but I could hear that the cups were moving, at first I took this to be someone rearranging them but after a few moments I realised that someone was lying beneath.

It was almost like witnessing a rebirth as the figure gradually came into view, Dhaou’s body was twisting and contorting as he finally came free from the cups. What followed was a rediscovery of limbs as Dhaou writhed snake-like around the floor before finally coming to his feet and shiver-like movements coursed through his hips and arms; it was traditional Tunisian dancing brought into the present.

As the performance went on I was greeted with what I’d been waiting for: the smell of coffee. The lights focused in on the back and I became momentarily hypnotized by the mist before realising that I’d been caught in a similar trance-like state as Dhaou. He seemed to be emulating ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil’ movements along with gently holding himself in an embrace. He was utterly captivated by the smell of the coffee and the climax occurred as he stood between the audience and where the steam was escaping from, his silhouette presenting an ethereal image.

Although I could see little of his face throughout, the look of sorrow at the start of the performance had been replaced with one of sheer joy and ecstasy. However, this disturbed me somewhat, it was like watching an addict come out of cold turkey and finally get what they’d been craving and in this way it was difficult to empathise and feel joy for him.

A discussion with both Dhaou and M’Barak followed the performance and they were able to answer some of the questions put forward. I wholeheartedly agree with the fact that they did not wish to give their own conclusions as to do so would restrict its impression on the audience and they felt it should speak for itself, however, I was grateful for a little context. Given the conditions that surround the Tunisian people; daily bombings, the never ending sounds of gunfire and continual violations of human rights, it is comes as no surprise that a simple thing as the smell of coffee could cause such joy. The notion that I couldn’t sympathise with Dhaou’s reaction to the smell had now completely evaporated; I now understood that this ecstasy was coming from the sense of normality that such a smell could bring. It was pure escapism.

Overall this was an extremely moving piece, the jittery movements that I’d mistook for an addict’s cold turkey symptoms where now akin to the rediscovery of oneself. When all you know is war, the simple aroma of coffee can provide relief of something normal and is a resistance to the oppression in itself.

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