Published in collaboration with thINKingDANCE. Access original post here.
In June 2015 I traveled to Bethlehem, Palestine to make an evening length dance with three young dancers from Diyar Dance Theater, a Dabke company. I was invited by the director, Rami Khader to make a new piece with them about their experiences as women living in the occupied West Bank. What follows are excerpts from my writing about our rehearsal process, the challenges we faced and the questions that arose about cross-cultural collaboration. This piece is also a document of what I observed crossing checkpoints and borders, the prison-like conditions that Palestinians face and how it affects them on a bodily level.
At the studio I meet the three young dancers who I’ll be working with: Hala Abusada, age 23; Dima Awad, age 18; and Christy Daboub, age 16. I ask them questions about their lives as women in Palestine and the conversation is stilted. They report that there is nothing extraordinary about their experience as women: there are fewer opportunities for women than men in Palestine, as is the case everywhere. Of course men speak over them and don’t respect their opinions. Men do that everywhere.
I let go of the conversation and guide them through a contact improvisation leading/following exercise where the follower moves with eyes closed. Afterward they report that moving with eyes closed feels very relaxing, but that the role of the leader is challenging for them. I want to investigate the role of the leader more. Why is it difficult for them to direct?
I ask them to create a monologue about a time when something didn’t go their way. They practice both in Arabic and English because they will be expected to speak both languages depending on where they are performing. I have them perform their monologues simultaneously with movement phrases they have created.
Dima tells a story—as she swings her arms from side to side and bends her legs into a deep second position plié—about how she was humiliated at a checkpoint. She was forced to go through the metal detector multiple times while a soldier interrogated her about whether she was wearing an underwire bra. As compelling as this story is, Dima feels hesitant to perform it onstage. The women can’t even find a socially acceptable word for bra in Arabic that could be said in mixed company. I feel frustrated that we must let go of such rich material because of cultural conventions, but in this collaborative process the dancers must approve of all the material.
Hala tells a story about when she bought a pair of shoes especially for a trip to the U.S. When she arrived she took them out of the box and discovered that they were both right-footed shoes. Hala practices ballet and she performs the story while in relevé, sternum held high. The juxtaposition of her elegance and the awkwardness of the anecdote is captivating. She agrees to perform this and I plan to buy her two right-footed shoes.
When the director Rami and I go to purchase the two right shoes for Hala, we run into his brother-in-law, who insists we come into his clothing store to have orange juice. He gives me mango juice instead, which I’m allergic to, so he runs to the store to get orange juice. The hospitality here is delightful and unnerving. We miss an appointment and Rami is late to pick up his daughter from daycare.
I walk through the streets recording the noise of the city for the sound score. We visit the wall
Banksy’s murals were originally created in solidarity with the Palestinian people, but they have become a tourist destination with prints for sale. Rami describes this as an act of resistance turned into a commodity.
Here is an original Bansky mural framed inside a souvenir shop.