Another Lover’s Discourse ليه خلتني احبك, VAULT Festival

by Laura Kressly

What is love? Riham Isaac wants to know, so she turns to music, old films, interviews, and religious and secular iconography to find out. She in turn shares a collection of ideas of what love is, isn’t or what it might be. The result is a highly visual, multimedia cabaret presenting an international, era-spanning collage of love and romance.

Isaac heavily draws on video, including extended sections from romantic films. Though these are in Arabic and not always subtitled, the characters’ behaviour is clearly about love or sex. Video is interspersed by soulful music, dance, and live feeds. Her dance is particularly captivating – it’s all seductive eyes, and graceful serpentine limbs cloaked in flowing fabric. These sequences are welcome breaks from the longer blocks of video, as they remind us of the immediacy and theatricality of love. English is rarely used, though it doesn’t make a great deal of difference – the theme always comes across in fervent, aching tones. Whilst little in the world is genuinely universal, Isaac proves love is an exception to the rule.

However, the depictions of love that are shared are almost exclusively straight and cis. There’s also plenty of toxic masculinity and patriarchal ideology evident, sometimes less obvious than others. Whilst the latter is clearly there for the purpose of critique, queer love is, disappointingly, notably absent and there’s little recognition of those outside the gender binary.

There is a clear payoff at the end, when Isaac speaks to us directly and neatly ties up the many depictions of love she shares until that point. Though she hasn’t necessarily answered the question she started with, it has grown and changed in unexpected ways whilst still remaining somewhat elusive. This, it seems, is really what love is.

Another Lover’s Discourse ليه خلتني احبك runs through 11 February.

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