On the night of Jan. 14, Lebanese baladi dancer Alexandre Paulikevitch limped home after a beating from riot police.
He’d been picked up by chance during the popular protests. Feeling broken, both physically and mentally, he began to hum and dance, expressing himself the only way he knew how.
Nearly a year on, battling through a pandemic, the Aug. 4 blast that devastated his home and a military tribunal, Paulikevitch is ready to present his new show “A’alehom,” a raw and emotional performance inspired by the chaotic events of 2020.
The dancer-choreographer, who debuted in 2009, is known for performing in the glittering, vibrant outfits and sensual lighting associated with baladi dancing. Here, Paulikevitch comes to the audience stripped of all trappings, without music or a proper stage, in nothing but his underwear, as a symbol of loss.
“A’alehom” will open a brief run at the Saint Joseph Church Crypt this week, all of whose shows are completely booked. The performer hopes to add more dates at different venues in the future.
This punchy 40-minute show moves quickly. It begins with Paulikevitch in silence, re-enacting returning home after his turbulent night and slowly undressing. A single spotlight illuminates a tall wooden box, reminiscent of an open wardrobe or a coffin.
Walking in between audience members, he crouches in a corner and weeps silently, before hobbling slowly back to the front of the stage, where he begins to hum disjointedly and move his limbs, as if despite the pain.
His movements steadily grow smoother and the humming more recognizable as Luiz Bonfa’s popular tune “Manha de Carnaval,” which, as covered by Fairouz, was significant to Paulikevitch’s childhood.
Using the box as a frame, he performs with exaggerated movements and graceful, flowing lines, wearing a despondent expression. At one point, his dancing becomes more erratic, banging against the confines of the box that imprisons his expression, before falling to floor post-panic.
Stepping outside the box, he combines wing-like arm movements while balanced on point – a movement instantly recognizable to anyone who has seen “Swan Lake” – with shimmying hips. The moment acts as transition between defeat and a sudden re-emergence of anger and revolutionary spirit.
Donning a gas mask, he tips the box to the ground and climbs on top, dancing aggressively with snapping fingers and a thumping drum beat created by his own feet, challengingly staring down audience members.
The performance is a personal examination of Paulikevich’s emotional roller-coaster, from when the 2019 protests began to everything that followed. Vastly different from his usual offerings, the show is a seamless blend of contemporary and baladi styles, creating a dramatic effect loaded with meaning.