NAYA| Sawti: Questioning what it means to be a woman

The constantly evolving scenography and the multi-layered dimensions presented in the performance questioned what it means to be a woman.
by Christy-Belle Geha

14 October 2019 | 19:13

Source: by Annahar

  • by Christy-Belle Geha
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 14 October 2019 | 19:13

Photo from "Sawti" (HO)

BEIRUT: “They cut my voice” hummed Souraya Baghdadi, Nadra Assaf, and Yolla Khalife while they collapsed on stage. The lights went down. Few seconds later, the three women re-emerged stronger than ever and danced their hearts out.

A bouquet of vocals, choreographs, and light shows brought to life “Sawti," an interdisciplinary theater performance that took place from October 10 to October 13 at Monnot Theatre, Achrafieh.

Directed by Chadi Zein, the performance honored women and their identity through Yolla Khalife’s oriental music pieces, Souraya Baghdadi and Nadra Assaf’s contemporary dance choreographs, Rami Khalife’s piano performance, and liBeyrouth performers’ body poetry.

Each of the three women, Khalife, Baghdadi, and Assaf, had her own story to tell, yet all three were strongly immersed in each other’s struggles. They shared their inner selves with the audience.

“Each one of them is unique but they have a common trait: they are women,” Zein told Annahar.

During the show, the three performers defied all hardships inflicted on them. Those were represented by red ribbons that first controlled their movement like puppeteers operate their puppets. After they “crossed” the red lines imposed on them by society, they continued moving forward.

They also fought against women objectification, the societal control over women and the historical evolution of a woman's role in society. This manipulation was symbolized by a two-color-sided sheet. It first covered the performer Aline Ouais with its blue side, symbolizing the times that women are admired by society, then it choked her by its black side, symbolizing the times society oppresses and objectifies women. Fertility was another present topic in the performance and was visualized with the exchange of pomegranates, a symbol that allegorizes the survival of many Armenians amidst the Armenian Genocide and mirrors a wide range of emotions such as rebirth, survival of a nation, suffer and hope.

Khalife’s featured songs were taken from four of her albums titled “Ah”, “Ah-Aah," “Hawak,” and “On the road." Those were released between 2011 and 2019.

“Sawti," or “My Voice" in English, allowed Nadra Assaf to have a conversation with her younger self in a nonlinear narrative style. She expressed how life did not turn out to be as serious as she thought it would be. Souraya Baghdadi's performance on the other hand, held "back the passing time on her shores." Lastly, Yolla Khalife dedicated her work in this piece to her son Rami, who joined the stage and softly took over the music scene with the sound of the piano when the motherhood and procreation notions subjects were brought up.

“You have seen on stage fulfilled women, dancing in their bodies in what seems like an impressionist painting despite age that socially determines the woman’s effectiveness and productivity,” Zein added.

“Sawti” spoke the performers’ souls as it took the audience on a trip into a woman’s life: her feelings of ecstasy, passion, motherhood, trouble, disorientation, anxiety, and separation. 

“They cut my voice so I don’t read a verse about love, so I started encrypting love on the heart’s tape,” the performers sang.

“There’s depth, intimacy and courage in revealing ourselves. We also have common feelings that linked us, Souraya, Nadra, and I. ‘Sawti’ is a soul-to-soul conversation,” noted Yolla Khalife to Annahar, while Souraya Baghdadi also emphasized the additional immersion in Sawti’s homage to the female identity after the show’s first version was showcased in 2017.

“'Sawti’ is a trans-generational lesson about the importance of hearing women’s voices and a note of equality between women and men,” pointed out Zein.

Throughout the performance, performers from liBeyrouth for Living Arts and Culture, NGO, held mirrors that reflected the audience's reaction to the show. Their self-perception coincided with the women’s feelings and on-stage movement. The constantly evolving scenography and the multi-layered dimensions presented in the performance questioned what it means to be a woman.


Welcome to “NAYA”, the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. NAYA is devoted to women of all generations-NAYA Editor, Sally Farhat: [email protected]

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