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