Zoukak wins in­ter­na­tional artists award

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - ARTS & CULTURE - By Maghie Ghali

BEIRUT: The Ja­pan Art As­so­ci­a­tion held its an­nual award cer­e­mony this week. Its high-pro­file lau­re­ates, win­ners of JAA’s Praemium Im­pe­ri­ale, in­clude such in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned fig­ures as Rus­sian bal­let leg­end Mikhail Baryshnikov, Sene­galese mu­sic star Yous­sou N’Dour and Ira­nian artist Shirin Ne­shat.

Le­banon’s Zoukak Theatre Com­pany is also among the ben­e­fi­cia­ries, win­ning JAA’s Grant for Young Artists, a prize given to arts in­sti­tu­tions that work with young peo­ple.

Zoukak co-founder Maya Zbib was awarded the 5 mil­lion yen ($45,000) grant at the an­nounce­ment event in New York.

Zoukak was founded in 2006 by seven artists wish­ing to tackle heavy top­ics through theater. The group has worked with re­gional refugees, mi­nori­ties and marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties. The theater troupe was nom­i­nated for the prize be­cause of its ini­tia­tives that fo­cus on so­cial and hu­man­i­tar­ian youth is­sues, such as gen­der, re­li­gion and iden­tity.

“We have out­reach pro­grams for young peo­ple from all over Le­banon, es­pe­cially in a marginal­ized con­text,” Zbib told The Daily Star. “We have drama ther­apy work­shops that have pro­duced amaz­ing work.”

Nom­i­nated by Bree Jepp­son from Rolex Men­tor and Pro­tege Arts Ini­tia­tive, the theater com­pany was rec­om­mended to Ara Guze­lim­ian, dean of the Juil­liard School, who was part of the nom­i­nat­ing com­mit­tee.

“It was a sur­prise and a big honor,” Zbib said. “Even though we got the grant, it’s more that we’re be­ing put on the same level as big artists, which is a big re­spon­si­bil­ity and high­lights our duty to de­liver a cer­tain level of work. Peo­ple are look­ing into our work now, which is both a joy and a re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Zoukak’s lat­est pro­gram is an out­reach project de­signed to al­low high school stu­dents from around Le­banon to come and see their per­for­mances, fol­lowed by dis­cus­sions of the is­sues in the work.

“Each year we will invite 1,200 stu­dents to come and see the plays.” Zbib ex­plained. “Our lat­est one called ‘Silk Thread’ was a site-spe­cific per­for­mance that deals with iden­tity and sex­u­al­ity. It uses fairy tales and lo­cal myths to con­front our con­cep­tions about males and fe­males.”

“Silk Thread” pre­miered in 2012 with shows in Beirut, Ber­lin, Mar­seille and Ker­ala, and was later adapted to be per­formed for schools in Jan­uary 2017.

“I was wor­ried about how they would re­act,” she added, “but they re­ally en­joyed it and in the dis­cus­sion after­ward they were mak­ing con­nec­tions we hadn’t even con­sid­ered.”

Zbib says the group has yet to de­cide in what to in­vest the grant’s win­nings ex­actly, but the money will be put to good use.

“We will prob­a­bly ei­ther use part of it for pro­duc­tions or part for the work­shops with drama ther­apy with dif­fer­ent young peo­ple from around Le­banon and we’ll pro­duce a play at the end.”

Zoukak’s next per­for­mance, “The Joker,” a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Le Carre-Colonnes, will be staged at the Fes­ti­val In­ter­na­tional des Arts de Bordeaux Metropole, then re­turn to Beirut in De­cem­ber.

The play is funded by Switzer­land’s Drosos Foun­da­tion, which has been sup­port­ing Zoukak since 2016 – cov­er­ing train­ing of prac­ti­tion­ers in psy­choso­cial in­ter­ven­tion tech­niques, artis­tic cre­ations, artis­tic men­tor­ing and drama ther­apy.

Zoukak also has plans to open a 100-seat theater and re­hearsal space in De­cem­ber, lo­cated in the Cor­niche al-Nahr-Burj Ham­moud area.

“It used to be a fac­tory which then got turned into an art gallery. ... We hope to have a cafe added by next year,” Zbib said. “It’s im­por­tant for us as a com­mu­nity to sup­port new artists and al­low them to use the space, in a way that’s prof­itable but not ex­pen­sive. We don’t want to open it and then have it close later like so many oth­ers; it needs to be sus­tain­able.”

Lamia Abi Azar per­forms in “Silk Thread,” which was adapted to be per­formed for schools in Jan­uary 2017.

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