OLGA’s NOTES, all those restless bodies takes as its starting point an article that appeared in Al-Hilal magazine in January 1963 on the establishment of the ballet school in Cairo. The article describes the school, which was founded as part of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s larger plans for modernization and reform at that time, as a “factory of the bodies.” Supported by major figures including the Russian choreographer and director Leonid Lavrovsky, the school was to become an important institution in Nasser’s nation-state building project.
The film script juggles between different dances and small stories linked to this history. It looks at dance from historical and political perspectives, and also at the body from the perspectives of dance, labor and exploitation, thus dance becomes an excuse to think about labor, and labor an excuse to think about dance and movement. The effect of political ideologies on the identity of the individual is here reflected in the body of the dancer. After years of training, rehearsing, and performing, the dancer’s body has become damaged—a metaphor of the violence of state projects, and nation-state building that accompanies a capitalist ideology and a consumerist approach to the human form.
In the film, Pierre follows the main ballerina from The Fountain of Bakhshisarai (the first major production, performed in the presence of Nasser, by the ballet dance group in Cairo where dancers were awarded Orders of Merit). Sandra re-enacts Yvonne Rainer’s classic, Trio A, (which she had learned by heart in dance school), Jasmine does her usual pole dancing, while Natacha fails to remember her part in the harim dance and improvises. Cynthia appears from behind, dancing alone and Alia stands still, re-enacting certain positions of dancers while they are not dancing. In their own way, each of these bodies attempts to find a history: a fragmented story of a damaged, colonized and incoherent body that has failed to remember, failed to perform, and is just sliding on stage. Here, different histories clash together side by side.
This co-commission, first presented at Kunsthalle Lissabon and curated by João Mourão and Luis Silva, takes on a different form at Art in General, becoming part of an architectural “set” that houses Arsanios’s new film alongside existing works, several of which are part of her long-term research project Al-Hilal. Taking a collection of magazines from the 1950s and 1960s as a point of departure, this research examines questions of decolonization, nation state, violence and the marginalization of feminism.