When my roommate asked me if I wanted to go see a contemporary dance I was definitely hesitant, contemporary dance has never been my then. Then she mentioned it was free and I figured, why not? I’ve got nothing to lose. And as it turns out I’m happy I made it out there because the experience was definitely worth trekking all the way over to the Babel Theater in Hamra. Hidden underground, this theater is around 5 years old and feels very clean and contemporary inside. According to their website, they are “dedicated to support and develop the concept of civil society free of violence, fanaticism, and discrimination” through the shows and concerts they host. They also have a completely non-political and non-religious stance, giving people a neutral space to express their creativity and engage in non-judgmental expression and discussion.
LOL (Lots of Love) by Protein Dance was a funny, energized, and relevant production about our lives now in the digital age that fit right into the theater and crowd. The show is a collection of stories of individuals trying to find love online with dancing and sounds effects that mesh together really well to show how the extra layers between individuals muddles the communication so much. The stories are mostly told through dialogue, with a single character tells the audience about their attempt to use online dating, Facebook, email, everything, to find new friendships or romance. While they’re telling their stories, they are being tossed about and manipulated onstage by another one of the dancers, who could represent either the technology itself or the person with whom they are communicating, but my guess is toward the tech.
Two stories told stand out to my attention as being specifically memorable and telling a lot about what the rise of online platforms of communication and relationships are doing to people’s heads. One guy tells the story of a guy he met up with online, Darren, who introduced him to new feelings and situations when they met up in real life. During the story, the audience can clearly see how this guy just doesn’t want to see the reality, that Darren is probably gay and thought he was out on a date, while this guy just thinks he’s meeting some new guy friend through Facebook. It’s only after he remembers that his profile says he’s “open to new experiences” do we see an inkling of realization, which he quickly squashes because it would ruin his entire perception of his relationship with this cool new guy he met.
Another woman tells her story through a series of emails she sends to the first and only man who responds to her online dating profile. Though his first email was likely a generic introduction, the same he would send to any other woman he approached on the website, she took his attention desperately like a woman dying of thirst and built up such enormous expectations in the face of what seems to be pretty obvious lies and cop-outs on his part. She goes crazy waiting to hear back from him, since obviously now that all communication can happen instantly there is no reason why he can’t respond ASAP.
At points all the dancers join to throw each other around to a background of clicking keyboard noises and sent IMs, lost in the whirl of the world wide web. On the screens behind the dancers we could see their webcam interactions with mysterious online strangers, having dinner “together” or giving a tour of their apartment. Overall, it presented a very __ perspective of the way our relationships have changed through countless new technologies that have sprung up to help us communicate better in a funny and thoughtful way.
There were definitely points in the dialogues during the performance that would not fly in a typical, conservative Middle Eastern crowd, but looking around the audience it was nice to see a mature, intellectual bunch that could enjoy a good laugh. I suppose this is what people say when they call Beirut the most “cosmopolitan” city in the Middle East. The openness of the people and culture here, their joy for life and living in the moment, really allows this type of outspoken and, at times, risqué art scene to thrive.