An Interview with Nigar Hasib

Lalish Theaterlabor is a Kurdish experimental theatre company sited in Wien since 1991, born five years before in South Kurdistan. Nigar Hasib and Shamal Amin, founders of the company and life partners, lead a long and very interesting work about body and voice exploration. Always their shows, as their workshops, are works in progress and can need a lot of years to take many different forms depending on the different people the company meets. According to their special own process called Songs as a source “songs become the source of rhythm, of physical presence and also the source of action”: songs are not only sung, but they’re done.

We knew them last year in Bologna, during PerformAzioni Workshop Festival, and here you have our conversation with Nigar Hasib.

Would you like to introduce yourself to SuccoAcido readers?

NH: First I would like to thank you and SuccoAcido for this opportunity to talk about me and our work in Lalish Theaterlabor. I am Nigar Hasib, I come from South Kurdistan, since 1991 I’ve lived and worked in Vienna. I'm performer, leader of singing-voice-body work, since 1998 artistic director and co-founder with Shamal Amin of the Lalish Theaterlabor/Research centre for theatre and performance culture in Vienna. I have Masters and Doctorate in Theatre science Studies and Social-Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna, and I studied at the Theatre Academy in Baghdad/Iraq before. For three years I was lecturer at College of Art/department Theatre in South Kurdistan. Co-founder, performer, leader of singing-voice-body work from 1986 to 1990 of "Kurdish experimental theatre company" in South Kurdistan and from 1991 to 1998 in Vienna.

SA: What about your life in the beautiful and dramatic Baghdad?

NH: I was student in Baghdad at Theatre Academy from 1984 to 1988, so exactly in time of Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s! As the capital Baghdad was at that time an attraction per se, but 8 years of war with the neighbouring countries and the difficult political situation, especially for us as Kurds and oppression of the folks under the Iraq regime, made our life unbearable, of course we had some beautiful times, but fear was very present and has determined our lives.

SA: When did you understand theatre would have been your life and your work?

NH: I knew only when I was 18 years old that theatre would be my life and my future. Before I had a huge passion for art, music and singing, but theatre seemed too big and too inaccessible for me. But when I met Shamal Amin and he supported me to study with him at Theatre Academy, I perceived it as very aware and embanked myself on this project to find myself in theatre and to fulfill myself and gain freedom. Now I have been working for 30 years in theatre and hopefully another 30 years!

SA: Your performances are very special ritual voice ones. Singing is the most important character on your work. Shamal says: “In ritual voice performances we don’t tell fairy tales, but we discover and experience a world that is not so far away from a WE, here and now”. Would you tell us about this kind of experience?

NH: After many years of searching and experimentation in theatre to find our own way, we believe that ritual and vocal performance is the right way for our work. For me the voice has a great power and immediate effect on people, apart from in which country they are and what cultural background they have. Voice is an ancient and archaic medium of communication between people, without linguistic understandings people can communicate vocally and physically. In contemporary societies, where different cultures and languages meet, art generally and especially theatre should refresh, expand and renew its expression mediums. Maybe in modern theatre language is not so important for understanding and communication like before, nevertheless it is very present in mostly performances. For me and my work in Lalish Theaterlabor, the language is a barrier for dialogue between people with different mother-tongues. Therefore, I return to the source very consciously, the voice is my source, in a ritualistic atmosphere. In our work the act, the theme and the dramaturgy are voices and songs themselves. We expanded our experimental ritual performance work with the process Songs as a Source. Here songs become the source of rhythm, of physical presence and also the source of action. Those songs are not only sung, but they’re done. Shamal Amin calls this process “making songs visible”. Decisive for the importance of the voice and of ritual singing in this process is that the multidimensionality of the space is perceived through feeling and hearing the voices, tones and sounds, so that a feeling of space and spatial awareness can develop amongst those present.

SA: Many of your chants are from Kurdistan and the language you use is the old Kurdish (your ancient language) but never you speak about their meaning. The importance of those words is their sound, not their meaning. But why did you decide using those words and not another kinds of words?

NH: As I have already said, the meanings of words are not important for me, but the effect of sounds and tones of voice. I always say: it isn’t important what I say, but how I say something! That is why we never give the meaning of the songs for the other people. I work on old Kurdish songs because they are very elastic and flexible, and they have a broad space for technique, especially to make vibration and to use larynx technique, they are not hard or limited.

SA: What about larynx songs? You often use old and ritual vocal techniques from Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Morocco and Jordan. How could you find all those texts and special techniques?

NH: Our work is a research project. We seek and explore different voice and singing techniques from different cultures. The larynx singing technique is a serious and complicated technique, but very interesting and effective. It helps performers to different body positions and breathing techniques. It is a very magical world, you forever seek so you discover more, and that is the art! Moreover, you can find larynx technique in various old folk songs in several cultures and in many countries of the world.

SA: Besides your performances, you are devoted yourself to lots of workshops all around the world. What about your students? Generally, which are the reasons why they approach this kind of study?

NH: Many countries are interested in our theatre and in our voice-body work, so we get every year many invitations from several countries and international festivals to present our performances and leading workshops. Personally, I want to pass my own experiences to other people, but also through the workshops I want to offer a kind of exchange, to provide a process of giving and taking. We had until now participants from Kurdistan, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Iran, Turkey, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Holland, Ireland, Portugal, Wales, Greece, Italy, South Tyrol, Serbia, Latvia, Ukraine, Kosovo, Bosnia Herzegovina, Slovakia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Japan, Singapore, India, Mexico, Russia, USA, New Zealand, Perú and Chile. And that's a very interesting experience for us not just as artists but also as human beings!

SA: No Shadow is a performance/work in progress since 2006. It’s much more than a show, it’s a ritual in which everyone can see and receive different senses. During your performance the scene is almost empty but you have some flour and some lumps of sugar. Why choose these objects and not another ones? Is there any kind of symbolism?

NH: First I would like to talk briefly about the process of this performance. No shadow was performed from 2006 to 2012 in various versions as performance and methodological demonstration with workshops and international work exchange in Austria and at 20 international theatre festivals, also on acting schools, art and drama academies and it will be performed this year again in Italy/Rome and Napoli, and in India/Kerala. With the research-project No shadow and the continuing research Songs as a Source, we dedicate ourselves to today’s mostly forgotten archaeological search for the human voice, its individual and cultural origin and its direct impact, in performances. Shamal Amin and I, we seek to discover an original, intermediate and artistic language, outside of the conventional linguistic symbolism. This new, non-linguistic language consists of syllables, sounds, tones and possibly still other vocal expressions, stemming from various different cultures. All this leads to a new way of communication in performance and special work on own composed experimental Voice- and Singing techniques. Voices and songs become the source of rhythm, of physical presence and also the source of action. Shamal Amin aptly named this new phase in the work of the Lalish Theaterlabor the Awakening of the Abstract Solemnity. He says: “We create a flowing space, wherein voices and songs turn into pleasure. The voice resembles an action which always allows one to discover something new.” So this new, non-linguistic language in the performance work of the Lalish Theaterlabor therefore distinguishes itself fundamentally from today’s so-called artistic languages of world theatre, which primarily deal directly with representation, with things, subjects and stories. We always try to create an empty space, which then becomes filled with voice and movement. A space in which the surroundings turn into an “Everywhere and Nowhere”, into a ritual-space and time transforms itself into an “Always and Never”, into a ritual-time. Songs and voices are not being employed to deepen a dramatic plot or to connect two scenes to another one, or to try to embody the theme of a song. Neither are songs performed for special occasions or to fit a given situation. The Lalish Theaterlabor’s “Songs as a Source” surpass all these limitations and deconstruct such techniques: songs create our actions, but our actions do not interpret our songs lexically. Therefore each song, each vocal action, prescribes its own precise movement-score for the body. The body deals directly with the “Life of the Sounds” and its acting becomes organic instead of purely technical. In this way of acting the body doesn’t become a part of the voice and the voice a part of the body, but they form a unity, because that unity is the original source of expression. And about the used materials, it is our own personal need, why we use this material and not that. It is connected with our own memory, but of course integrated into an aesthetic art process. For me and for the audience, these materials have a meaning or an effect that can be very different. Everyone is free to interpret the materials as the songs and also the movements. We use very often materials that you can eat and drink, just like sugar, flour, apples and water. The song and the voice actions decide wich material should be used, it means that at the beginning of the work we don’t know which materials we will use, they come during the intensive daily work. The songs choreograph our body, also determines the materials. And that in all projects of Lalish Theaterlabor.

SA: You travelled a lot taking your work everywhere. Is there a country you still don’t know and you would like to visit?

NH: There is always a country somewhere you want to travel to! I always want to be surprised by which country will invite us next!

SA: Did you notice any difference among your public’s reactions to your performances depending on the different countries and cultures?

NH: Of course, and this makes our work even more interesting and exciting. The reaction is very different because the interpretations are different, simply because the people and the culture are different. In our performances, people are free, they feel open and are relieved that we don’t overwhelm them with stories and meanings, we want them to feel with us and not just to think. We appeal to their senses and not their mind, there is free space for own fantasy.

SA: What about your last work in progress, The garden of dreams?

NH: The project The garden of dreams/work in progress since 2012 is a new international experimental research project of Lalish Theaterlabor under the direction of Shamal Amin. The research and development phase of this project will be prepared in various performance versions in Austria (since September 2012), Italy (July-August 2013), and then in Morocco and Jordan. And all versions of this project will be presented from 2013, at international theatre festivals and conferences, at university theatres and as guest in several countries. Included there will be an open exchange, dialogue, workshops and open laboratory, as well as visual documentation of all the research phases. In Italy we will cooperate with Il casale delle arti. This cooperation with Il casale delle arti, near by Naples, has developed through our meeting last summer as we have led a voice-body workshop there and we will be there again on July/August this year for presentation of the performance No shadow and we will work on Version II and Version I of The garden of dreams with Giorgia Guarino/Artistic Director of Il casale delle arti. Song and voice materials of the different performance versions of The garden of dreams are based on old and ritual song and vocal techniques from North Mesopotamia, East and South Anatolia (Zazaki songs in North Kurdistan), Zoroaster larynx songs (Siatschamane and Hore style) from the Hawraman mountains in east and south Kurdistan, even larynx songs technique developed by me, composed experimental songs in self-invented artistic language by Shamal and me. Also Italian ancient and ritual songs, Jordanian Mawal songs, Moroccan Amazigh songs (Amazigh are an original North African people). Text materials of this project consist of text fragments in the original versions of the Sumerian texts, Yasna text of Zoroaster and the Black Book of Yezidis in old Kurdish language, short poetic texts by Friedrich Nietzsche, Franz Kafka, Tahir Ben Jalun and Samuel Beckett in German, Arabic and English language. Also poetic texts in old and modern Italian language, and text fragments of Amazigh origin. In this project, as in all other our projects the linguistic text materials are not used as a channel of communication, but as a musical and rhythmic instrument, and the term "celebrant" instead of "actor", here will not represent a defined character or a dramatic role.

SA: During our meeting, I was really struck by your positivity, an indispensable condition to involve students and audience and to invite them to listen to their own voice and body. What’s the secret of your enthusiasm?

NH: Life, the different people and cultures, the passion for art and theatre, for self-realization and self-liberation!

SA: Do you still have any unfulfilled dreams?

NH: Dreams are beautiful or terrible, because they can never be really fulfilled! But we never stop dreaming! So I will still dream and never give up on making them come true!

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Marta Ragusa
13.07.2013 in SuccoAcido Magazine