One of the stars of “Kiss and Cry – Nanodanses.” Beirut - Arabstoday Practical as they are, human hands also have an aesthetic about them. When they clench in anger or shake with fear, hands convey emotion, though they do so without our bidding.In “Kiss and Cry – Nanodanses,” hands stand in for whole dancers, exhibiting a surprising capacity to convey love and even heartbreak, eliciting empathy along the way. Though certainly not traditional dance, these hands shock, entertain and move, in a bittersweet, cathartic performance. A collaboration between Belgian choreographer Michèle Anne De May and her countryman, filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael, “Kiss and Cry – Nanodanses” opened BIPOD, the Beirut International Platform of Dance, Saturday evening. A beguiling mix of theater, dance, film and puppetry, the multidisciplinary work took the essential beauty and grace of dance and translated it into something new. The pre-performance anticipation in Hamra’s al-Madina Theater was tangible, with audience members taking their drinks in the midst of a body installation piece titled “Sssshhhhh ...” choreographed by Maqamat Dance Theater’s Mia Habis. Clothed only in his underwear, a young man balanced facedown on an arrangement of large, water-filled glass jars. Around him, black bin bags lay at strategic intervals. Upon examination, the bags’ unknown contents were wriggling disconcertingly, like puppies waiting to be drowned. With no choice but to stand in the midst of the black bags, awkwardly maneuvering around them to greet friends, audience members became inadvertent parts of the installation. BIPOD’s program suggests the installation addressed the issue of silence in the face of atrocity – though without that knowledge the, admittedly interesting, tableau was difficult to decipher. So primed, the audience filed into the theater, many falling silent as they surveyed the complicated set design. The stage was littered with a bizarre sequence of cameras, computer equipment, tables, countertops and cupboards. A large model train sat front and center. A U-shaped track ran around the front and sides of the stage, allowing cameras to move smoothly from one tiny set to another. The scaled-down action was filmed and transmitted live to a screen mounted at the rear of the stage, allowing the audience to watch the performance on stage and on screen simultaneously. The interesting “making of” element provided an insight into the creative process, revealing how shots which appear complex on screen are set up in reality, while attesting to the camera crew’s impeccable timing. This multiform performance told the story of an old lady and her recollections of her five lovers, in a series of short scenes set in locations ranging from desert – complete with rolling tumbleweed – to undersea (filmed in a fish tank). Interludes were provided by passages filmed both from outside and inside the miniature train, with steam provided by an astute deployment of a dry-ice machine. Set to a varied soundtrack, including pieces by George Frideric Handel, Antonio Vivaldi, John Cage, Jacques Prevert and George Gershwin, “Kiss and Cry – Nanodanses” ranged from classical dance to modern disco. Two hands – one male, one female – danced and twirled together in a range of imaginative solos and sensual duets, unrestrained by gravity. The dancers’ skills were no less pronounced for being limited to hand-movement. From the opening scene – a graceful ballet set to the baroque strains of Handel – the hands assumed their roles with all the grace and athleticism of professional dancers. Dancing on a plain wooden desktop, next to a tiny tree that rendered them graceful giants, they twirled and pranced delicately on two fingers (or legs) in a series of sweeping, fluid solos and duets. After only a few seconds the hands became not just small parts of a dancer, but dancers in their own right. Other vignettes were more witty than beautiful. Particularly entertaining was a short scene set in an ’80s disco, complete with tiny disco balls and a shiny black floor which reflected the dancing hands and disco lights in wild, swirling confusion. The seedy encounter was summarized perfectly as one hand stripped the other of a glove, finger by finger, before the two performed a surprisingly sexual bump and grind. Two fingers of one hand slid suggestively up and down the length of their partner’s finger in perfect mimicry of drunken lust. The scene called to mind George Bernard Shaw’s definition of dance as “the vertical expression of a horizontal desire.” Maintaining an audience’s attention on a pair of dancing hands for 90 minutes is no small task. Incredibly “Kiss and Cry – Nanodanses” left the audience wanting more; the performance received a standing ovation so loud and prolonged it became almost oppressive. If Saturday’s unusual performance was indicative of the caliber what is still to come, this year’s BIPOD promises to deliver innovative performances of an extremely high standard.