Yara Boustany is a talented young artist from Beirut whose performance crosses boundaries of dance, physical theatre, circus and visual arts.
She arrives at The Lowry with Ēvolvō as part of the Shubbak festival, which celebrates Arab culture by introducing international Arab artists to UK audiences.
The show opens with a bare stage and Boustany in a tight-flesh coloured, leotard-type costume which, in the intimate space of the Studio theatre, allows us to see at close range every muscle movement and bend of vertebra. Cocooned, her form, projected into a large screen behind, appears in shadow as a pupa, from which Boustany slowly emerges.
We are transported to the mountains of Lebanon via a soundscape of birdsong and stridulation of crickets. Boustany’s talent is undisputed, as she flexibly twists and morphs her body to create huge shadow-puppet insects and creatures.
Initially the strangeness of the performance captures the attention of the youngsters in the audience, but the lack of narrative or clear musical structure means their attention quickly wanes. As my 7-year-old theatre buddy said: “The grown-ups were all sat-up watching and the children were all falling asleep, bored.”
It was a fair and honest observation. As a kid’s show it doesn’t work, but as a piece of performance art, Ēvolvō is an interesting mix of multi-media and movement.
Away from the rural landscape, projections take us to the busy street-life of Beirut with chaotic movement created through a flexible mirrored board that bends and flexes to produce flashes and kaleidoscopic fragments of light and imagery.
In the final section Boustany emerges in a full costume made out of colourful lengths of plastic, whose form and movement looks like it has been based on a Chinese dragon. The dance is similar to a Chinese dragon too, before black and yellow wings emerge from the side of the creature to make it look more like a giant, pre-historic bird. We realise this is not a good luck dance.
The vivid colours of the costume and strong beat of the music do win the children back again, but the environmental message of a city drowning in plastic pollution, while visually impactful, is again one for the adults.
Although this version has been specially adapted for a younger audience, it is unfortunately still too abstract to hold the attention of primary children.★ ★ ★