Matthew Paluch sees Sadiq Ali'sThe Chosen Haram in London
|Title||The Chosen Haram|
|Venue||The Place, London|
|Date||9 February 2023|
Forbidden is an interesting word. What exactly? Why? And for who in particular… so of course the forbidden makes an interesting premise for a work.
The Chosen Haram (meaning forbidden) by Sadiq Ali has a short, two-performance run at The Place (February 8/9) looking at subject matter close to Ali's own reality.
Ali is gay, (ex) Muslim and HIV positive. Life is complicated for many, but that's quite a lot for one person to handle – no matter how resilient.
Ali wrote a piece in The Metro (2021) in his own words, which was primarily about his status being outed during his study time at the National Centre for Circus Arts. He recounts how his classmates literally began to physically distance themselves from him. Their fear of infection manifesting. As they sadly knew no better about possible, or rather not, transmission risks.
But resilience prevailed, and he in turn educated both his peers and the institution as a whole. Of course, there's still lots to be done, hence The Chosen Haram. I don't believe we choose our sexuality and homosexuality should be forbidden… but that's certain (all?) readings of the Quran for you.
It's interesting to be back at The Place – one of London's epicentres for modern dance – reviewing another work (Not Standing's Through the Grapevine on 16 January) created by a circus artist trained dancer and choreographer, this time using Chinese Poles as the movement's creative medium.
The work is about two (gay) men, and sees them navigate each other, their circumstances and possible (including emotional and addictive) obstacles. Ali is joined by Hauk Pattison, the pair being the original cast from the work's inception in 2021.
It's difficult to say what the work is, as it's many things… and not. Multidisciplinary isn't easy. It's a play without words, but at times lacks refined drama. It's an elongated circus act, but without the expected, obvious performative angle. It's a narrative dance piece but needs more movement phrasing and cohesive dramaturgy.
All that said, Ali and Pattison are strong, charismatic performers who offer some very powerful moments throughout.
The production uses texture and effects well. Plastic features for many different reasons: sexual taste, a metaphor for drug taking, and the suggestion of both protection and entrapment. Also wind, which bellows the paper-thin plastic beautifully.
The Chinese poles allow for some impressive technical movement feats. Their verticality encourages rotation and climbing, as well as exploring the horizontal plane with the body, often suspended at more than 10 feet, seemingly supported only by arm or leg power. Impressive. Duo moments also work well with free falls stopping within an inch of the ground, and circular, swooping revolutions (with only millimetres to spare between the two), glide organically.
Throughout, Ali's complex relationship with religion is evident. Or rather faith. Often communicated through light, specifically a rectangular shaft projected onto the floor forming his Sajjādat aṣ-ṣalāt (prayer rug), or an all-consuming pool from above. We see him pray… hear him even. And there's turmoil there. Intricate, choreographic hand movements become frenzied, manic washing, suggesting dirt. Filth. Clearly relating to his sexuality, and the connected perception of shame.
As the relationship between the two men progresses it becomes more complex. They simultaneously support and enable each other – taking turns in passive and dominant roles, both physically and emotionally. During the work's closing scene, Ali offers an impactful, breakdown episode that is genuine in execution. Instigated through drug abuse, he progresses into a convulsing, blubbering mess. It's both engaging and difficult to watch. A little similar to the overall experience.
The work has merit as it's brave, personal, and discusses important, difficult topics. Ali has gravitas, but I feel he might accomplish more with deeper, perhaps different creative support moving forwards. I'm sure this is just the beginning of his artistic exploration and to quote him directly: “Queer intimacy within circus is almost non-existent.” Well not anymore.
Matthew Paluch was awarded a place at The Royal Ballet School in 1990 where he graduated in 1997. His first four years as a professional dancer were spent working with London City Ballet, Scottish Ballet, K-Ballet and English National Ballet, becoming a full-time member of ENB until leaving in 2006.
Matthew graduated from the Royal Academy of Dance, Professional Dancers' Teaching Diploma in 2007, and is currently on faculty at The Royal Ballet School. He completed his Masters in Ballet Studies at Roehampton University in 2011 and has been a freelance writer since 2010. He is a Trustee (2021) of the Royal Academy of Dance and works in the Law Sector.