In her dance film debut, Lebanese dancer Jana G. Younes created Orenda, a beautiful short that explores the notions of love, loss, and the time it takes to travel between the two. Though still in her early twenties, Younes has managed to stir talk of her philosophical performances around Beirut. Orenda tells the story of a girl who transports her dying lover into the realm of time in hopes of making him live longer. In an effort to understand the thought behind the short, we asked Younes a few questions about her career, passions, and why she delved into such an esoteric genre of film.
How were you first introduced to dance?
At the very beginning, it was my mother who insisted that my sisters and I enlist in extra curriculum activities. Ballet was at the top of the list. All of them stopped at the age of 18, but that’s when I became more curious about what was behind those after-school classes; what is it that I was learning? What are the different styles? Where does each one of them come from, and where all of this is going in our contemporary world?
Would you say dancing is your greatest passion?
I’ve always looked up to people who are passionate; they are insane, and that’s what I admire the most. Later, when I used to look at my reflection in the mirrors of dance studios, I saw myself developing that insanity, that thrive for a better technique, for a clearer sequencing and a greater feeling.
That’s when I realized that yes, dance is my passion, and everything related to music and to movement in general made me crave for more.
How do you incorporate your love of film in your dancing?
One of the most beautiful privileges that film can give you is the fact that you can look at one thing from different angles – you can choose what you want to show, you can emphasize on details you would probably miss in a live performance. That’s how I see dance; you don’t turn your back to the audience, take some rest and come back facing it with a smile. The dance starts within yourself and, under this circumstance, you are seen from every spot, you are felt with every breath. They say dance as if no one is watching. Film changes this view; you are seen, and what is filmed is forever, an emotion is captured and can’t be undone. And, once you have it, you always come back looking for it.
What’s the story behind Orenda? How did you come up with the concept?
It’s an obsession with Time and Relationships.
There are two views about time: One is that it is part of an existing structure, completely independent of events. The other holds that time is part of an intellectual structure, used to compare events. However contradictory, one thing is inevitable: we cannot manipulate time. It will keep passing independently of actions or existence of seasons, of religion or politics. It’s something we cannot control.
In Orenda, the man is dying; the girl transports us into the realm of time and tries to stretch it so that he lives longer. But the unavoidable will happen, and eventually he’ll die. Relationships are complicated; they require dedication, trust and passion. One thing destroys it: ego. In Orenda, the girl is trying to help her lover; when he refuses, she gives up. Only then does he come forward and ask for her assistance. They enter into a literal vicious circle – the circle of time, as is represented as the moving clock in the film.
What does the word “Orenda” mean?
“Orenda” is a mystical force present in all people that empowers them to affect change in their own lives, or in other people’s lives.
What do you think of the dance culture in Lebanon? Are people receptive to your distinctive styles of dance?
Filmmaking in Lebanon is growing; there are more festivals, bigger platforms, more interested investors and larger potentials. The problem is with a special category of films that few are aware exists: VideoDance.
There’s nothing like a Dance on Camera festival in Lebanon, and that’s because there are no dance filmmakers. A film that includes a dancing scene is not a dance film. The dance film has to tell the story through movement, not dialogue, as is used conventionally in cinema. Nonetheless, a documented piece of dance is also not a dance film. It should be a language; it’s a story told through moving bodies; human bodies, trees, waves, and the body of the camera.
Unfortunately, due to the circumstances in Lebanon, only a minority is focused on what many in other parts of the world are interested in: Performing arts. Physical movement is essential in our lives, but not when we are distracted by power, politics, religion and violence. There are no certified performance art schools in Lebanon, because there aren’t any fundamental standards. They are low, and often times non-existent. In Lebanon, you don’t graduate from a dance school because there aren’t any. The only recognition you get is what the media decides to offer.
What this minority I just mentioned is trying to do is invest in bringing dance teachers and choreographers from abroad, to give workshops, lectures, or performances. But this doesn’t seem to be enough. The dancer cannot be serious as long as he or she has to work two different jobs to pay the bills. One must first obtain a “serious” diploma, before focusing on dance. This is the problem with our culture; parents enlist their kids in dance schools because they want them to develop an artistic side. But if they happen to have a gift and decide to become professionals, the parents prohibit them to follow their dreams, because the future doesn’t look so bright. A real dancer is emotionally and intellectually fearless: Love, loss, eroticism, anger, betrayal, chance, fate, daring; these are the kinds of words dancers bring to mind, and to life. No one is allowed to stop that from happening.
I try to communicate this idea in my classes, so that the students understand that we sweat for a greater cause, instead of blindly stepping to lose weight.
If you could only choose one, would you work in film or dance?
I discovered dance at the age of four, and film at eighteen. One happened to me, one I chose to become. I want to make films, but I feel that I have to dance. I cannot stay put while listening to music, or keep myself from tapping my feet to the beat of my heart. It is inevitable to say that I choose dance over all. It reflects the little details of life for me. As Alice Abrams once said – a quote that I believe so dearly, I have it tattooed on my skin – in life as in dance, “Grace glides on blistered feet.” It’s physical: the bruises, the strains, the sprains, and the muscle spasms. It could make you pull back or beg for more.
What’s next, after Orenda? Do you have any other films in the making?
I’m currently working on combining Aikido, a Japanese martial art, with contemporary dance. Their commonality is magical. It’s still at its early stage; it requires a lot of physical training and mental determination, but the process is all about exploring new paths and widening our perspective.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I know it might be a long way to go without having a lot of support, but this is the cost of dreaming big. I would end this with a thought that explains this madness:
“Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
I invite everyone to listen.
Orenda from Jana Younes on Vimeo.