The Third Circle by Nancy Naous and Wael Koudaih

What direction would art take if it were subject to Islamic law? How would music and dance find their expression if they were made according to the tenets of the Sharia? These were the principal preoccupations in the research carried out by Lebanese artists Nancy Naous (choreographer) and Wael Koudaih (composer), which led to their new production.

The Third Circle is an installation and a performance, based on interviews made in Lebanon with several Muslim scholars, religious leaders and experts in Islamic law. After showing them the video extract of a dance performance below, the duo questioned them on how this piece might be created so as to conform to Islamic law. The intention was to find out, with regard to both the dance and the music, what would be authorized by the Sharia.

Arts and religion have over centuries been an interesting field of creativity and tension. Religion and different ways of interpretation of holy texts and practices tend to set limits to artistic performances and at the same time have been a source of inspiration for artists to find ways of creative expression conform with religious stipulations. To what extent is there a consensus among religious scholars and individuals on how this can work? Wael Kodeih and Nancy Naous chose to explore the subject with ten Islamic scholars of different affiliation, asking them to comment on the short performance of modern dance below and seeking their advice what according to their standards would be acceptable and how they would change it if it were up to them. The performance - the original and the variations according to the different assessments were presented in Cairo, Marseille and Beirut's al-Shams theatre. Starting from a bird's song transformed to musical interpretation, the discussion took into consideration whether a creation deriving from nature itself made a difference, whether the choice of instruments mattered, and, of course how the expression through movement by two female dancers was regarded.

Read here excerpts from the different interviews in English that have been selected by Denise Sumpf. Denise Sumpf has a Ph.D. in behavioral economics and her dissertation explored the use of art in corporate contexts to remedy perceptual biases in decision-making.

She currently lives in Beirut and works on governance, institution-building as well as economic development. 

If you are interested in an audiovisual of the performance, please get in touch with

Wael Kodeih:

Nancy Naous:


Read The Third Circle – Interviews’ Summary here