The Dead Live On In Our Dreams
Chorograph and performer: Hooman Sharifi
Musicians: Arash Moradi and Mehdi Bagheri
Sound: Nikolai Nørregaard Høgset
Tony Endre Hestnes
Dansens Hus, March 30th. 2019
‘I am not sure if I am the right person to review a solo by a middle-aged man’, I say to my partner as I leave to see The Dead Live On In Our Dreams by Hooman Sharifi/Impure Company. My partner, who is also a middle-aged man, laughs and says, ‘You should write about that’.
In 2000, Impure Company was established under the banner «Art = Politics». Imagining the state of Norwegian contemporary dance at the start of the millennium, I can see how such a proposition would draw attention. Nowadays, I am not so sure. It’s an equation that not only changes with time, but also with the people using it.
Yet, 19 years later, Sharifi’s appearance on stage can still be called political. When Sharifi in The Dead Live On In Our Dreams mentions how memory can be ‘heavy’ while immediately bringing attention to his own body, I feel a pang in my heart. As he retreats into a dance that pulls his knees, feet and head towards the ground, I know what this pang is about. It’s the exact reason why I might not be the right person to review this solo.
The vulnerable man
I can already see how the show will be appreciated for its ‘vulnerability’, as if being vulnerable on stage has almost become a trend lately. There is something about the vulnerability, especially in middle-aged male artist, that – to put it bluntly – annoys me. At the same time I am also fascinated by it, because I cannot help feeling sympathy for them. The fact that I cannot figure out where to place myself in relation to these emotions, might be the same confusion middle-aged men seem to struggle with. Maybe I share their sense of shame; vulnerability is not a one-way street.
There are several references to ‘openness’ during the solo. As we enter the theatre, each person is handed a little piece of scented paper. I smell the paper sporadically throughout the solo and also while writing this review. The smell reminds me both of my childhood dentist and of wet, old forest ground. In a sort of informal introduction, Sharifi mentions the smelly papers. ‘It’s a new idea we’re trying out’ he says. He goes on to explain how they thought about spraying the entire room, but that the paper slip left more up to the individual. ‘You can throw it away, if you want’, he says. Someone in the audience asks about the name of the smell. ‘If I told you, it would be destroyed’ he jokes. The audience laughs. He warns us that he might get lost in the performance and that it might get boring, but asks us to refrain from checking our phones. ‘This is a collective space, it is our space. We are making this space together’, Sharifi says, in a voice that would not be unfit for a TED-talk. He mentions a Youtube-video of Patti Smith from the 2016 Nobel Prize Award Ceremony, where she experienced stage fright and had to stop singing, before apologizing and starting over. Sharifi says it inspired him. He is not Patti Smith yet, but he’s working on it. My sympathy for him only grows. And then the lights go out. In the dark, a beautiful Persian song is played by the musicians Arash Moradi and Mehdi Bagheri.
Maybe it’s the mentioning of Patti Smith that starts me thinking about the aura of the performer, any performer really, and how it’s so often linked to the ‘artist identity’. Sharifi’s persona is undeniably present in his work and so is his personal background. It’s almost a relief when Sharifi says that he sees identity as something that can be recreated through death. He mentions how death is something we resist by inventing rituals, or literally, by dialing the number of a dead friend out of some bodily reflex. He talks about the need for a different collective identity and the importance of belonging. I am thinking about generalizations and how ready we are to accept them.
Sharifi is often introduced the same way. As the child who at the age of 14 emigrated all by himself from Iran to Norway. As the teenager who, through hip-hop and street dance, found his way to contemporary dance. And as the latest artistic director of Carte Blanche, who gave this national Norwegian contemporary dance company a much-needed shake-up. The Dead Live On In Our Dreams is advertised as Sharifi’s return to the stage. Considering it’s only been three years since he last danced on a stage, calling it ‘a return’ probably tells us something about Sharifi’s position in Norway. It brings to mind the big backpack of personal and institutional identities that Sharifi must be carrying around, and how the weight must invariably be adding to expectations and skepticism relating to the name ‘Hooman Sharifi’.
The audience is approached with more thoughts on topics such as dreams, memory, time, the body and mourning. It is fascinating to see how swiftly Sharifi moves from loaded humanist statements to anecdotes about the rise of the extreme right in Norway, as well as the death of a cousin and a dear colleague. From humanism to hoomanism. ‘I like when things are over’, Sharifi says.
The last part of the performance is more like a ritualized dance. Again, there seems to be a desire to communicate something that goes beyond anecdotes of daily life, something bigger than the individual itself. It’s verging on the sentimental, but I choose to give in to Sharifi’s offer to get lost. Sharifi’s specific physicality makes watching the movements very affective. It’s dance for dancing’s sake; an introvert play with shadows while simple images are being created. But it’s hard not to think of all the solos in which symbolic objects and fabrics are being activated through spiraling and repetitive movements. I wonder why we keep coming back to this. Why so many dance solos revolve (no pun intended) around the idea of circles, repetition and ritual. It even brings back the clear memory of a solo I’ve performed myself. Like Sharifi, I happily risked the accusation of self-indulgence because I believed in the inherent value of getting lost on stage. Even as I try to resist it, the memory is colored with embarrassment.
Arriving back home, I look up the video with Patti Smith. I knew about the incident, but had never watched it. There is Smith, with her striking appearance, singing A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall by Bob Dylan, the no-show laureate. The room in Stockholm is filled with rich and influential people, listening to a song about injustice, suffering and warfare. The camera goes from Smith to a beautiful woman wiping away a tear, to the king of Sweden, who is rumored to once have stood on a table, singing and shouting, ‘I’m the king of Sweden! I’m the king of Sweden!’
You’d be forgiven for wondering how vulnerable Smith really is in this situation. Celebrated by a crowd of some of the most privileged people on earth, who are maybe hoping that even just a flake of whatever historical mojo Dylan (or Smith) represents might rub off on them. You need to be ‘someone’ to have your failure applauded like that. You need to be ‘someone’ for your audience to allow your self-indulgence. You need to be ‘someone’ to be granted the space to get lost. (Publisert 31.03.2019)