Sunday, October 23, 2022

Another Lover’s Discourse – an abstract multi-media interrogation of love (until Sunday 23 October at The MAC as part of Belfast International Arts Festival) #BIAF22

Another Lover’s Discourse is a truly multi-media solo performance by Palestinian artist Riham Isaac, combining crafts, film, song, dance, interviews, fashion, objects, live camera work, and some personal diary reflections. It’s rare to see quite this breadth of elements contributing to a single show. The piece was commissioned by Belfast International Arts Festival, and delayed by the pandemic, has finally made it to these shores for a couple of performances this weekend.

Riffing off the black and white Egyptian romantic comedies of her childhood, Isaac visually introduces the audience to her internal conundrum about the nature of love in relation to shmaltzy romanticism, the desirability of marriage.

There’s never just one thing dominating the stage, a film playing will be augmented – or perhaps, distracted – by watching Isaac thread paper hearts onto a string. Video bounces between an old TV set, the theatre’s main projector screen, and a vertical monitor mounted to one side of the stage.

A video triptych of Isaac dancing is visually arresting. Singing a new accompaniment over the top of silent footage from a black and white film fires synapses and kicks of thoughts as you try and piece the actions and emotion together. The recording of her discussing love with her mother offers intimate reflections on a parent’s hopes for their child. A white skirt that could be from a wedding dress physically consumes the artist, leaving her crawling across the floor like a giant veiled turtle.

If the live performance aspects had been prerecorded and were projected the full size of the back wall of one of The MAC’s gallery spaces, Another Lover’s Discourse would allow visitors to sit or stand between the screens, peering at some of the larger objects while being consumed by the sounds and atmosphere. It wouldn’t look out of place on a Turner Prize shortlist.

Yet as a piece of commissioned live theatre, Another Lover’s Discourse leaves its interpretation, and much of the sense of narrative, very firmly in the hands of the audience. Isaac conveys a sense of passion and longing during the untranslated sections – not everything is surtitled – but ambiguity is the order of the day. Closer to dance than theatre in terms of its abstract storytelling.

I was somewhat disorientated, unsure of the real distinction between the artist’s mindset at the start and the end of the process. Had the romantic comedies really coloured the culture around her so much as a child that those ideals lived on with her as an adult? Had her journey to interrogate love come to any sure conclusions that were life-changing during the making of the piece?

In the post-show Q&A on opening night, Isaac referred to the final sequence of the 70-minute performance which is less costumed, less ornate in its telling, as she delivers her personal manifesto on love to the audience. Maybe I was distracted by the quantity of stereotypical pastel-coloured hearts that kept reappearing on the set throughout the performance: they might represent the true love that would always have to be sought out. But it felt out of character with the conclusion that one should be committed to the search for who you really are, and be more concerned about how to love rather than being worried about defining what love is.

Plenty of food for thought, and certainly a feast for the eyes and ears: it’s a joy to see international work being performed in Belfast after the pandemic disruption. You can catch the final performance of Another Lover’s Discourse this afternoon at 3pm in The MAC before the show transfers to the PalArt Festival in London (29–31 October).

Check out the preview post from a few weeks ago to find out what other treats Belfast International Arts Festival is serving up between now and 6 November.

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