Spring is a season of entertainment in Beirut, a tradition set to be renewed later this week with the start of the city’s Spring Festival.
Based in Tayyouneh’s Dawar al-SHAMS art space, this year’s event promises to stage musical, dance and theatrical performances and workshops by artists from as far afield as Tajikistan and the U.S., Zanzibar and the Netherlands.
Created in 2004, the Spring Festival was founded by the SHAMS Association and the Lebanese NGO Culture Resource, in partnership with the Turkish Cultural Center. The aim of the initiative was to improve the artistic creativity of the region and to facilitate cultural exchanges.
Staged once every two years, versions of the Spring Festival have been held in Cairo, Alexandria and Beirut, welcoming such artists as Lebanese musical icon Marcel Khalifé, Spanish vocalist Esperanza Fernandez and a range of African performers such as Breyten Breytenbach and artist Freshlyground (both from South Africa) and Moroccan rapper Momo.
Staged in Beirut and Tripoli, the 2012 edition promises to bring more outstanding artists to Lebanon.
“It is the only multidisciplinary festival where you can find high-quality performances,” said Hanan Hajj Ali, a founding member of SHAMS and Culture Resource.
For Hajj Ali the objectives of this festival are to have a blending of cultures and to show how “the artists are dealing ... with what’s been happening in these countries ... through [the] arts.” The events of the Arab Spring have provoked an explosion of artistic creativity in the region and around the world, and it is this energy source that this year’s festival seeks to tap.
One of the highlights of this year’s festival – a performance of the American dance troupe Dance Brigade – will be held in Horsh Beirut and Beirut Municipality is expected to open the gates of the city’s sole pine forest, which are usually kept shut.
“It has never been reopened to the public since the end of the Civil War,” Hajj Ali observed. “We want to tackle the question of public space.”
This year’s festival focuses in some way on ignored areas of the country, she continued, and the significance of reaching out to “more and more the usual public that we have.”
As is usually the case with festival programing, The Spring Festival is the result of a long selection process.
“The first major point that we rely on,” said Hajj Ali, “is for our members to be from all Arab countries, and to be part of associations in their countries as well, in order to give advice on the performing artists.”
One of Turkey’s most famous shadow puppet theaters, Cengiz Ozek, has staged more than a thousand performances. Cengiz Ozek will perform at Dawar al-SHAMS from April 20-22 along with hosting workshops, which Hajj Ali hopes will “set the basis for this art in Lebanon.”
On April 22, Turkish oud virtuoso Nuri Karadermili will be part of a distinguished team of musicians featured in “Turkish Coffee,” a show of solos, duets and improvisations. He will be accompanied by violinist Nedim Nalbantoglu, clarinetist Barbaros Erkose, qanun-player Volkan Kipri and percussionist Ismet Kizil.
An outstanding taarab show will be performed on April 26 by The Tausi Women’s Taarab, a 12 women ensemble from Zanzibar. Formed in 2009, TWT specializes in the classical music of their country. This will be their first performance in Lebanon.
The Lebanese audience will have the honor to attend an exceptional concert on April 30 by a team of musicians from Tajikistan, Iran and Tunisia named “The Invisible Face of the Beloved.”
Spring Festival organizers say this 90-minute show will combine classical music with contemporary forms, with an eye to the sort of cultural blending Hajj Ali says the festival was founded to promote.
Also among the slate of varied performers participating in the festival will be Zapp 4, from the Netherlands, who will perform at Dawar al-SHAMS on May 3. Composed of violist Oene Van Geel, violinists Jasper LeClercq and Jeffrey Bruinsma and cellist Emile Visser, Zapp 4 describes itself as combining jazz, groove and improvisation.
The Tayyouneh space will turn its attention to theater from May 15-20, hosting “Yahya Ya3ish” a play by Tunis’ Fadhel Jaibi. The playwright composed the work before Tunisia commenced 2011’s Arab Spring, but it was censored at that time.
“This is the first time that [Jaibi’s play] is presented in the region,” Hajj Ali said.
This year’s Spring Festival promises to bring unknown yet amazingly talented performers. “The language we deal with is the one of arts and culture,” Hajj Ali said, “and the form we are using means a lot as well.”
Beirut Spring Festival runs from April 19 to May 15. For more information please call 01-381-290 or 70-902-874.