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Migrants find nest in Christiane Jatahy’s new play ‘The Lingering Now’

media An modern-day Odysseus is a Syrian refugee in Lebanon in Christiane Jahaty's 'The Lingering Now', Avignon Festival 2019 Christophe Raynaud de Lage/Avignon Festival

The Brazilian documentary-maker and director’s première of O Agora que Demora was received with gusto at the Avignon Festival 2019. Christiane Jatahy’s piece crosses borders both in performance and in plot.

In Lebanon, Palestine and South Africa, unsettled people speak directly to the camera. Being told to imagine that they are Odysseus, they tell their own story of exile in between that of the ancient Greek mythological hero.

They talk of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife and of Telemachus, his son, whom he has left behind in his kingdom, Ithaca. The Greek poet Homer’s epic tale follows the King of Ithaca’s struggle to return home after the Trojan War. It took him ten years, and at least as many nail-biting adventures.


Refugee children from Zimbabwe and Malawi in South African meet Homer's Odyssey in Christiane Jatahy's 'The Lingering Now', Avignon July 2019 Christophe Raynaud de Lage:Avignon Festival 2019


No borders

Jatahy introduces the audience to about 25 “characters”, migrants or migrant-actors or actor-dancer-musicians whose parents or grandparents were migrants. The stories pile up around the spectators, on screen and some, planted among the audience itself.

Yara is a most intriguing character who personifies Jatahy’s concept.  She crosses several border in Jatahy’s piece. Through her personal experience she has crossed geographical borders, but also the border between real-life events and stage drama.

In a twilight no-man’s land, she is on screen telling the audience about moments during her journey. Still on screen, but facing Syrian refugee, Omar al Sbaai, she plays Homer’s enchantress, Circe, and tells him in a coy way that he is actually Odysseus.

Then from her seat in the hall, she tells a moving story about returning to Syria, being arrested and sent to jail. Spectators around her can see her as well as the cameraman in front of her, who projects her image on the screen where she can been seen and heard by all.

Yara Ktaish, Syrian actress in exile, plays herself and Circe in Christiane Jatahy's 'The Lingering Now' at the 73rd Avignon Festival, July 2019 Christophe Raynaud de Lage:Avignon Festival 2019

Yara also gets up to dance when some of Jatahy’s cast from Belgium or from Brazil or elsewhere coax the audience to join in their burst of joyful energy, before and after delivering their own stories.

Vivacious member of the chorus in 'the Lingering Now' dances up the stairs at the Avignon Festival, July 2019 Christophe Raynaud de Lage:Avignon Festival 2019

Jatahy’s homecoming finale

‘The Lingering Now’ winds up in the Amazon region of Brazil where the precious tropical rainforest acts as a lung for the region. The current Brazilian government is encouraging deforestation, saying that it is necessary for economic development. She interviews Kayapo tribe members and asks, like all the wanderers of mythology, of the past and of the present, will the Kayapo tribes be forced in the future to leave their homes too?

Avignon’s Odyssey

The ‘Odyssey’ is one of the Festival’s themes this year, hence ‘The Lingering Now’’s French title is, ‘Le Présent qui Déborde – Notre Odyssée II’, which translates as ‘The Overflowing Present - Our Odyssey II.

Amongst others, established stage director Blandine Savetier directs a “stage-series” of readings of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ in the Ceccano Gardens in Avignon everyday until 20 July at midday, with professional and amateur actors, including Deborah Lukumuena and Yuko Oshima.


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