A piedi per Beirut, per alleviare le ferite

The audience watches from a balcony as a groom is shot and a wedding turns into a funeral. (Photos by Ziad Ceblany, courtesy of Sahar Assaf)Beirut è il luogo dove ci si allena a vivere con l’altro. E’ una frase che non ha mai ancora veramente convinto.

Chi la pronuncia viene dall’Italia, sempre più chiusa e provinciale. Certo, rispetto alle città italiane, Beirut è assai più aperta all’altro.

Ma è davvero un vivere con l’altro? E’ davvero un con-vivere? Piuttosto che un con-dividere?

Quanti ghetti ci sono a Beirut? Quanti villaggi uno accanto all’altro, separati a volte da muri tanto invisibili quanto tangibili?

A queste domande ancora si deve dare una risposta. Non ci sono però dubbi che Beirut continua a essere un laboratorio per l’incontro. Incontri d’amore, personali. Incontri di gruppi, di comunità.

Incontri e scontri, certo, come avviene nelle coppie più affiatate. Scontri drammatici e prolungati. Guerre, per molti più facilmente catalogabili come guerre civili.

E mentre in Siria le violenze in corso sono ormai inserite in un contesto di guerra civile, a Beirut il drammaturgo e regista teatrale Roger Assaf ha diretto una rappresentazione inusuale: Watch Your Step, realizzata nel quartiere popolare di Khandaq al Ghamiq di Beirut e associata a un tour aperto al pubblico interesso alla riscoperta della memoria del rione e degli eventi della guerra libanese (1975-90).

Di seguito un estratto dell’articolo scritto da India Stoughton per The Daily Star del 5 maggio scorso. Qui invece il link all’iniziativa realizzata dall’American University of Beirut (Aub) col sostegno dell’International Center for Transitional Justice (Ictj).

Il percorso fisico e virtuale intrapreso da Assaf e dai suoi attori, dalle guide e dai ‘turisti’ potrà forse ispirare analoghi percorsi inter-siriani per superare i traumi di un conflitto in corso.

(…) An exercise in resurrecting past trauma, “Watch Your Step” is likely one of the most fascinating and least comfortable performances to take place in Beirut in recent years.

“The inspiration of the text was a play by [Argentine playwright] Griselda Gambaro,” Assaf explains. “She wrote a play in the ’70s entitled ‘Information for Foreigners,’ which is also a sort of promenade performance … basically pointing the finger at audiences as accomplices to the state terrorism in Argentina at that time.

“When I read the play, I thought of our Civil War: ‘This would make a great project for the students.’ So we read it together. We started brainstorming and I started to look for a location …

“I passed through Khandaq al-Ghamiq and the first thing that struck me was that the moment you’re in the area you automatically think of the Civil War … You go down to Downtown it’s as if you’re in a different country – there’s no trace of the war. Here it’s like the whole area is a monument.”

Assaf came up with the idea of contrasting a manifestation of the post-war amnesia – the tour guide’s shallow, fabricated rhetoric – with dramatic moments based on stories residents shared with her or gleaned from research conducted by the International Center for Transitional Justice.

The wailing woman, she explains, is based on a lady whose son disappeared during the conflict. Three decades on, she still prepares two plates of food every night, refusing to leave the house for fear he might return.

“I wanted to make a play about our memory of the Civil War,” says Assaf, who timed the performances to coincide with the 39th anniversary of the conflict’s beginning, “to just say simply that we must remember. We have to look back, we have to step back in history in order for there to be a peaceful present and a peaceful future.

“We had 15 years of Civil War that ended overnight when all the fighting parties came together and decided to end it, like it was a football match or something … They rehabilitated all of the buildings, but they’ve done no rehabilitation for the human beings – all the people who disappeared, all the people who lost their houses, lost their future, lost everything.”

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the performance was the audience’s reluctance to intervene in scenes of violence, and willingness to passively witness strangers’ suffering.

“The guide is an accomplice, [a manifestation] of Lebanese amnesia,” Assaf says. “Like in Gambaro’s play, the audience becomes an accomplice to what’s happening. You see that he’s lying, but what do you do? Nothing. You just nod and move on.”

A thought-provoking performance, “Watch Your Step” is amusing, enlightening and deeply sad. Allowing audiences a rare opportunity to explore the interiors of some war-ravaged Beirut buildings, it simultaneously provides an insight into the human cost of the conflict and the passive mentality that allows atrocities to happen.

Far more than a simple trip down memory lane, “Watch Your Step” was a chilling wake-up call.