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Entries in National Arab Orchestra (1)


Performing Silence: Screening the Films of Mohamed Bayoumi

A review by Leyya Tawil, of an event that premiered several of Mohamed Bayoumi's films (1923-1933) in North America, in accompaniment to a commissioned, live orchestral performance and punctuated with a segmented lecture by yours truly, originally posted on Open Space, SFMOMA's online & live interdisciplinary commissioning platform.​

On the occasion of the exhibition Robert Rauschenberg: Erasing the Rules, and the performance program Limited Edition, Projects + Perspectives and Open Space invited artists Alex Escalante, Keith Hennessy, and Leyya Tawil to offer their thoughts on three iconic dance works included in the Rauschenberg show – and to link these works to three contemporary pieces. On P+P you’ll find Merce Cunningham’s Antic Meet, Trisha Brown’s Glacial Decoy, and Robert Rauschenberg’s Pelican, and here you’ll find robbinschilds’ Sonya and Layla Go Camping, Skywatchers’ I Got a Truth to Tell, and a collaboration between Mohamad Bayoumi, Michael Ibrahim, and Mohannad Ghawanmeh.


The instability of the frame is what is important here.

Another live conversation between moving image, physical music, and vibrating space recently celebrated its world premiere at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The cross-circuiting of creative forms parallels Robert Rauschenberg and Trisha Brown’s Glacial Decoy, but this time the action was a trio: Mohamad Bayoumi, Michael Ibrahim, and Mohannad Ghawanmeh.

Ibrahim, director of the National Arab Orchestra, created a live orchestral work for a series of rarely-seen silent films from the 1920s and 1930s by Bayoumi, a pioneering Egyptian director. This duet was punctuated by periodic appearances from film scholar Ghawanmeh, who offered historical and political context and also outlined the films’ technical advances. Notably, he entered and exited side-stage left. Just as in Glacial Decoy, audiences navigated a wall of moving silence, sounds generated in the stage plane, and the information offered from the periphery.

Skirting the theater’s wings, Ghawanmeh’s disappearing act provided sonic and physical structures that would manifest, then retract, like the limbs of Brown’s dancers teasing audiences from the wings. Ibrahim’s music was responsible for the space, his compositions drawing the action from the screen into the body of the audience. Arabic percussion and electronics rumbled our bellies and we were transported to the Egyptian village square. The rustling newspaper was tangible. The film is silent, but that night we could feel it.

Presented on November 17th, 2017 by the Arab American National Museum Global Fridays at the DIA Detroit Film Theater.

This collaboration is a National Performance Network Creation Fund Project, co-commissioned by the AANM, the City of Chicago, in partnership with the National Arab Orchestra and the Detroit Institute of Arts.