Europe

In time of troubles, Davos organizers send in the clown

Lebanese artist Sabine Choucair, who was invited to Davos, poses for a photo on the fourth day of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Lebanese artist Sabine Choucair, who was invited to Davos, poses for a photo on the fourth day of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)  (The Associated Press)

With an ear-piercing whistle, a professional clown in the crowd startles to order a conference room full of some of the world's elite thinkers, writers and religious minds.

That's why Sabine Choucair was invited to Davos, quips a quick-witted panel moderator.

The Lebanese-born, curly-haired artist in baggy green trousers and with a frequent raspy laugh made her debut this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a special invitee more accustomed to entertaining refugees than livening up serious thought-fests.

"They got in touch with me, and I was like 'Whoa, who are these people?'" said Choucair, on hand from Beirut, with a chuckle. "I was like, 'Yeah, let me check if I'm available or not.' Then I looked, and I was like 'Oh my God, I have to come!'"

Choucair, a clown and storyteller, has often worked with refugee children in places like the Greek island of Lesbos. This time, wearing no particular getup or red nose, she was working a different crowd — joking with world-class cellist Yo-Yo Ma in front of a bunch of well-heeled onlookers in an entrance hall of the Davos Congress Center.

In one event this week, Choucair enlivened a Davos dinner on the theme of "The Power of Play."

"I gave them one very, very silly game of, like, smiling ridiculously at each other, and talking about their first kiss, or a co-worker they don't like, or how do they like to eat their eggs? Just silly stuff," she said on Friday, the closing day of the WEF in Davos this year.

"People just played because they loved to play," she said, assenting that Davos attendees might have been expected to be a bit uptight. "You know how we all have prejudices about things, but no. I think everybody wants to play."

"It was also an opportunity for me to really tell them about what I'm seeing, because at the end of the day, I'm the one on the ground working with the people," she said of the refugees she's seen.

Writer Grenville Byford, who attended the dinner featuring Choucair, said: "She's quite something."