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Monday March 27th

Ackland to host trio of dancers to perform in "She Who Tells a Story" exhibition space

World-renowned dancer and choreographer Jonah Bokaer performing. Photo courtesy of Allison Portnow Lathrop.
Buy Photos World-renowned dancer and choreographer Jonah Bokaer performing. Photo courtesy of Allison Portnow Lathrop.

 "She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World,” is the Ackland's fall exhibit, highlighting ideas of the Middle Eastern identity. On Nov. 16, these themes will be shared through a new art form — dance. 

A trio of contemporary dancers will perform at the Ackland Art Museum in a durational performance inside the exhibition space on Nov. 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Jonah Bokaer, the trio’s world-renowned choreographer and dancer, will end the evening with a solo performance called Odalisques at the Ackland's ART& space from 4 to 5 p.m. 

Allison Portnow Lathrop, the public programs manager for the Ackland, said she hopes Bokaer’s performances will introduce a new perspective to the themes presented in the "She Who Tells a Story" exhibition — a show featuring the photography of 12 female artists from the Iranian and Arab world. 

“I hope that people get to experience the show in a new way because it's one thing to walk through the show and see the photographs and have your own reactions to it based on what you bring," Lathrop said. "But I think then to have another step where you see a dancer respond to it in real-time in the galleries, they add this whole other dimension.

Bokaer said the durational performance shares similar themes to the exhibition, yet exists as a separate entity. 

“I happen to think this is a standalone work that we are making," Bokaer said. "We are not in a one-to-one relationship with the photographs, but we are very closely and specifically staged within the walls, the exhibition design, the flow of the space and the architecture of each room.”

Nadia Khayrallah, a freelance performer, writer and dancer in the performance, said Bokaer’s choreography exists in dialogue with the exhibition to illustrate different aspects of the human experience.

“I think the way I see our work in relation to the rest of the exhibit, is that it's another piece. The same way that a photograph doesn’t have an explicit relationship, enhancing another photograph, but you see them in dialogue, and they can be in conversation,” Khayrallah said. “It’s a very real exhibit that shows several aspects of real life. There’s war, and there’s revolution, and there’s also people sitting in their bedroom. I think it's really important to show aspects of human experience on all levels.”

The performance uses Jehan Sadat, an Egyptian politician and scholar, as an anchor for the performance.

“It seemed to me that she is the perfect storm: a contemporary figure, approximate to the zones where the participating artists come from, diagonal to some of the concepts in the show and a female hero,” Bokaer said.

Hala Shah, a New York-based freelance performer and dancer in the performance, said the six-hour piece will take viewers through various stages of Sadat’s life in a nonlinear yet fluid manner. 

“Early in the process, it became clear that this was not just vapid movement," Shah said. "What could be a very two-dimensional experience actually becomes very 3D within your body. It’s like you are you, you are a mover, you are Jehan Sadat, you are going through her life in various capacities. For me, the further along we went, I could actually feel like I was growing as a woman, as Sadat. Starting young and then coming to pivotal moments that throughout the durational work feeds the themes and the subjects.”

Shah said anyone, no matter their background or knowledge on Sadat and Middle Eastern culture, can come in and find their own conversation. 

“Whether or not you are familiar with any of these artists or Jehan Sadat it’s definitely a very accessible, strong and moving entry point,” Shah said. “If I step out of my shoes and try to see what it would be like for the person walking through, it is not like we are enriching or enhancing. You are having the performance of the photography and our performance at the same time. The interplay between that makes so many possibilities."

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