The Dewan Platform

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In August 2014, Artistic Director Samar Haddad King attended the Dewan Platform in Wadi Rum, Jordan. This event, produced by Amman-based Zakharef in Motion, included a creative residency for dancers and choreographers from around the Arab World and a three day symposium with artists of various disciplines to discuss the political, economic and historic context of artists in the region. Workshops and discussions covered topics such as strategic agendas for creative space, freedom of expression, political and economic setbacks, threats and artistic learning, productions in hostile environments, redefining capacity building, and artists and social responsibility. The goal of this conference is an activist one, to give artists the opportunity to come into a free space, to vent, to reflect, to plan, to get motivated to give their voices to those who do not have a voice, and to catalyze to an otherwise threatened art and culture scene.

During this time Samar worked with nine dancers to create an original piece for performance, and collaborated with fellow choreographers Jorge Cresis (Spain) and Taoufiq Izeddiou (Morocco). Samar was also asked to contribute to the discussion on art in Palestine. Below is the article that she wrote for the Dewan Platform pamphlet, featuring the creative process for YSDT’s most recent work, Bound.

We talk about borders. Our lives are filled with them. Some of them we can see, even reach out to touch, others not so tangible. In Palestine, there are many. The ones that you can see, the ones that are spoken of time and time again, are just the appetizers of the intricate party of divisions so artfully engineered by our captors. The larger Arab world is not immune to these lines of discourse, and the talk associated with breaking the status quo of our current situation seems like this never ending dialogue filled with resolute determination that is all too quickly deflated.  It is hard. I struggle to find the point of how art, specifically my work, can battle the status quo. How can I battle this abnormal yet normalized existence?

How do you cross these borders on a daily basis over and over again? You smuggle. Different than the smuggler of goods, we are all, in a sense, smugglers of ideas.

In my last production of Bound, we had 11 performing artists: 6 confined to the occupied west bank of Palestine, one of whom is deaf; 4 Palestinians holding the Israeli passport -2 of them children; 1 dancer in NYC; 2 actors on film from Haifa, a director (me), a composer (West Bank), a set designer (NYC), a set constructionist (West Bank), lighting designer (NYC), a lighting technician (West Bank) and a lot of other people connecting the dots. I was the only mobile player in the construction of the piece: NYC, Ramallah, Haifa, and Nazareth were the fields (and a few times in Kufr Yasif). There were a few dancers (4) that could at least travel everywhere with me (because they hold the Israeli citizenship and can pass through certain checkpoints to get to the occupied West Bank), but two of them were children, so my rehearsal time was limited and thus couldn’t afford taking them to the West Bank because of travel time. All but two of the dancers in the West Bank were based around Ramallah. However the two living outside the city were subjected to long trips by public transportation that often cease when the Israelis decide to lock up certain cities by using flying (temporary and random) checkpoints. There are 99 fixed checkpoints within the West Bank and between the porous border of the West Bank and Israel, with over 200 flying checkpoints and hundreds of road obstructions1. Arabic, English, Arabic sign language, and a made up sign language were used in most rehearsals. Artists ranged from 11-35 years old.

We began rehearsals on February 7, and the piece would premiere on April 28th. The first time the entire cast would ever be together was on April 18th. They were together a total of 6 rehearsals before the premiere. The performance ran one hour and ten minutes and featured three mobile set pieces (2.5 meters in height and ranging from 2-3 meters in width) which were very integral to the piece, as well as one fixed projector and one moving projector. All the elements united for the first time on the day of the premiere.

A major theme in Bound is fragmentation. To safeguard these thousand pieces from fracturing into a million, we created a Facebook group where we posted videos.  Rehearsals could be experienced by all. In order to understand our own fragmentation, we must also try to understand what binds us.

I’ve done this before. When I first created Bound in 2010 the composer and I were in Palestine and everyone else was in NYC. I had to change my idea of what it means to be present and what it means to experience. I quickly, and sadly, learned that presence through a screen was anticlimactic.  That joy, that feeling of energy, relief, and fatigue, they were all missing as I sat on my computer watching the camaraderie go on miles away. I was the kid wanting desperately to be invited to the pool party. One of the dancers visited me at some point and quickly felt how isolated, how ‘unnatural’, it was to be on the other side. Budgeting in dance is limited (surprise!) so it’s just what it is. Give up some things to get some others.

For this latest version Bound, I didn’t try to sugar coat what the experience was going to be. Selfishly, I was not alone: all of us at some point were on the periphery. There were moments of frustration when the Internet wouldn’t work. Rather, there were moments of joy when it actually would work. Checkpoints made people late and sometimes they offered a good excuse to the dancer who just had to have one more cigarette before leaving to rehearsal. There were jokes that only some people understood; languages that other’s didn’t.  At one point I was so focused on the how to make it happen that I somehow bypassed what was happening and why we were doing it. It happens to all of us, but when it happens in a place like Palestine frustrations can be magnified many times over.  You feel you are fighting against many things to make a small thing happen, it feels even worse to overcome boundaries and then forget why the hell you attempted this feat in the first place.

The day before the premiere of Bound, I had to make a choice: premiere an incomplete idea that gives hope, premiere something with moments of pure strength marked with moments of potential disaster, or not premiere at all. To be clear, none of my choices were a reaction to something that happened, just a realization that even though we had beaten many odds, even though we said a big “Screw you borders-you can’t divide us!” there were many things missing. There were details that had no time, there were relationships between light, music, sets and people that were only beginning to form. And it was no one’s fault and even if I could put point blame (even to myself) it’s a waste of time. So, I decided to go with it because in the end hope is what keeps me going. Although it was raw and it needed more time to perfect, it gave hope.  And we will all find time- phase 2. The equation is imperfect, and perhaps it always will be. In Palestine we live under a set of laws that may be real, may be made up, temporary, permanent, or just the whims of a 19-year-old soldier; this chaos can’t be stripped from our existence as artists. Smuggling new ideas and forms are the beginning, setting goals but not unattainable limits help with defeat, and surrounding oneself with thoughtful artists who care penetrates failure; it all helps.

1 http://www.btselem.org/freedom_of_movement/checkpoints_and_forbidden_roads

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