B-ORDERS

Sun 9th – Tue 11th August 2015

reviews

Julia Pritchard

at 08:17 on 12th Aug 2015

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Being able to experience a wealth of different styles and cultures is one of the beauties of the Fringe, so it’s a shame that B-orders, a circus act fighting the limitations of repressive Palestinian culture, didn’t entirely succeed.

The acrobatic and aerobic talent of the lead pair Ashtar Muallem and Fadi Zmorrod is undeniable. The romantic contemporary dance routine in the latter half of the show was performed with oomph and gumption yet flowed beautifully as well, the two seemingly moving as one being. The physical strength of Muallem was quite astonishing as such a small woman, holding herself up, draping herself and contorting on a long red ribbon to create shapes and lines that were truly stunning, and the speed and ease with which Zmorrod climbed up and down the theatre’s 30ft pole was just ridiculous.

So, why only such a small part of the show revolved around these skills is completely baffling to me. Perfectly set up at the Circus Hub, in a sizeable auditorium complete with high ceilings and acrobatic pole, the cast opted to writhe around on the floor and embark on bland routines of choreographed walking, instead of using their agility to wow the audience.

With these fleeting glimpses of beauty, regrettably came many moments of tediousness, and self-indulgence. The opening display, utilising what looked like a game of giant Jenga to show off minor balancing tricks went on for a bit too long, and there were almost surreal moments where we were sat watching the two do, well, nothing. Simply sitting and staring at the audience in silence and drinking from their water bottles for what felt like a solid few minutes, it was not exactly the playful circus entertainment I had expected.

The piece’s intentions regarding what it wanted to show about Palestinian culture and the many restraints within it were admirable, but the piece itself didn’t quite match up to the message. The playing of Palestinian insults at the start, accompanied by their English translations flashing on a screen behind was pretty powerful. But, whilst the foreign language was perhaps a symbol of liberation for the actors, it became a barrier for the audience, making the protests and suffering difficult to follow.

It felt almost as if they had been lazy with the show’s choreography and content because their premise was an already prominent and intriguing topical issue. Whilst I understand what B-orders was trying to show, realistically, the notion that excessive convulsions across the floor equates to a lack of freedom in a chained environment seemed a little contrived.

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Beckie Rutherford

at 08:46 on 12th Aug 2015

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B-Orders is a memorable and innovative piece of physical theatre, superbly executed by professional acrobats Ashtar Muallem and Fadi Zmorrod. It is fundamentally a boy-meets-girl narrative shaped by the constraints of Palestinian society, and whilst the political undertones are constant, they are never contrived and the visual spectacle itself is often truly mind-blowing. However, if you prefer to understand exactly what’s going on (explanatory dialogue is scarce and delivered entirely in Arabic) and would find a cryptic performance frustrating rather than compelling, then this probably isn’t for you.

The chronology of the plot split into three lose sections, of which the first and last were the strongest. In the opening sequence both characters utilised individual sets of wooden blocks to effectively convey the tender blossoming of their relationship. Their childlike interaction was funny and sweet and the balance between vulnerability and defiance was spot on. The tone darkened as their lives became increasingly challenged by the adversity surrounding them, and the angry outpouring of emotion following the check point security scene marked the point at which I became almost desensitized to the remarkable physical capabilities of Muallem and Zmorrod.

However, the continual display of incredible feats was arguably not enough to prevent some frustration growing from the enigmatic nature of the narrative. Some silences were just too long and there was some audible shuffling and sighing around me. It took Zmorrod back flipping from a circus pole to suddenly recapture total attention and from then it was a gripping path towards Muallem’s show-stopping spectacle using aerial silk. Her combination of simian and sensual movement coupled with the dreamlike premise of the display successfully made it the most arresting five minutes of the entire show.

The symbiotic movement of Muallem and Zmorrod, performed at the audience’s eye-level, was perhaps the only feature of this production that was not exquisitely executed. The aesthetic was definitely at its most striking when they worked in opposition to one another – in particular the times when Zmorrod performed using the pole and Muallem the silk.

Although the show closed with an ambiguous feeling of promise, to characterise it as a kind of modern Middle Eastern fairy tale would be undermining and miss the subtlety of its messages. Overall, it was thoroughly refreshing to watch a performance where the meaning wasn’t handed to us on a plate and in which imagination was just as integral to the audience response as it was to the artistic delivery.

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