While incredibly entertaining, the critique of dance and political art can veer a little too sharp. The one-sided self-mockery eventually undermines too severely the possibility for the piece being able to convincingly function as social commentary, reducing the overall impact of the piece. The conceit of the dance-within-a-dance leaves the piece shredding the very foundations on which its own legitimacy is built: the unrelenting comedy of ripping into ‘dance’ as a political tool is a little too effective, leaving the piece feeling a bit impotent in the penultimate sequence.
The tension between the primacy of textual versus physical language is engrossing, and parallels the tensions between choreographer/dancer, Israeli-Jew/Israeli-Arab, Kogan/Boutrous. The primacy of text (illustrating Kogan’s will and authority) is nicely balanced by Boutrous’s visually-obvious resistance in his physicality and dance techniques. Nevertheless, the performance occurs in a context where choreographer, textual language, and Israeli-Jew have greater power, and We Love Arabs does not manage to move beyond a cheeky critique of this existing struggle.
While Boutrous’s silence and physical occupation of space offer an irreverent way of maintaining power, it is still frustratingly a continued silence which never arrives at anything else, a re-presentation of oppression that cannot become more. We Love Arabs also teasingly dances around the physical/sexual tension between the two men. Some of these moments could also have been pushed beyond being primarily jokes to more clearly signal the push and pull of seeing yourself reflected in the Other.
Debuting in 2013, We Love Arabs now occupies a particularly complicated space amongst heightened general awareness about racial politics and the consequences of racial supremacy. The satirical take on the choreographer’s liberal, increasingly preposterous lack of sensitivity therefore feels worn, and the parody loses its bite as the performance progresses and the parody repeats. I was left craving a fresher take on power dynamics and hoping for a more legitimate, deeper attempt at embracing the concept of co-existence as a contrast from the humour of the takedowns.
This is not to suggest that the piece is poor; it is a slick, riotous, 55-minute exploration of incredibly complex topics. However, the piece demonstrates the tension regarding social commentary within theatre: can humour be used as a tool to invest its audience with a deep understanding of how the powerful oppress? Can this humour be more deftly used as a tool to open up space where that hierarchy can provide agency to the ‘Other’, providing genuine opportunities for collaboration and a shifting of power dynamics?
Amongst the increasingly sophisticated work and writing about the relationship between identity, nationhood, race, and art, We Love Arabs is a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek takedown of art as social commentary which doesn’t quite manage to move beyond knowing, self-satisfied laughter.