The other side.
I arrived in Palestine late on Tuesday night. After entering and exiting the doors of nine different means of transportation (subway, AirTrain, elevator, plane, taxi, bus, van, mini-bus, taxi), I was glad to walk through the final door to find Samar. We sat together all night, friends came- the two week long conversation began. I arrived on the other side.
I was now in the space that I had only seen through a computer screen for months. The couch had texture, the air smelled of flowers from the garden outside, the tile floor was cold to the touch: I understood more fully now how Samar had been living since December and the environment from which she provided us with our daily tasks.
My daily tasks here in Ramallah have been of a much different nature however. I have not been as physical as I typically am while researching in the studio in New York. Samar and I have, rather, been a pair of dancing minds. One night while looking through some of Samar’s roommate’s books I came across this quote by Yoko Ono that speaks to the many possibilities of “dance” which I think is what we have been up to lately:
If people make it a habit to draw a somersault on every other street as they commute to their office, take off their pants before they fight, shake hands with strangers whenever they feel like it, give flowers or part of their clothing on streets, subways, elevator, toilet, etc., and if politicians go through a tea house door (lowered, so people must bend very low to get through) before they discuss anything and spend a day watching the fountain water dance at the nearest park, the world business may slow down a little but we may have peace. To me this is dance.
What Yoko seems to be saying is that dance is about opening up your body to the space and people around you. It is about reacting to it honestly and sharing that reaction. While technologies have allowed us to open our experiences up to a larger world across oceans and borders, our experiment here is an obvious example, it runs the risk of closing us off from experiencing what is right in front of us, finer details of emotions, textures, dimensions. Taking time to sit with a group of people and discuss, argue, and share ideas and passions has become just as important a tool as a reach to the toes or a spin to the ground.
A few days after my arrival we lost internet connection for four days. Instead of sitting in our respective place behind our computers reading articles, updating websites, responding to emails we were forced, in the most fortunate way, to engage in one another. During those four days Samar and I spent evenings conversing with artists/dancers in town for the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival. One in particular grabbed our attention- Taoufiq Izzediou.
Taoufiq is a choreographer/dancer/thinker from Marrakesh, Morocco. He told us about his idea of dance dujour (dance of the day). For Taoufiq the dance is about being truthful to the information your body has to work with in the current moment which could include traces from your past mixed with realities of the present. We talked into the night about the artist/dancer’s role in larger society and the dangers. We awoke the next morning inspired by new perspectives and a restored internet connection just in time for our Tuesday rehearsal.
Zoe, Kristin, Sara, Stephanie, Sabrina, James, and Yukari blurry faces appeared. It was quite a surreal moment considering two weeks ago I had been on the other side of this screen. I desperately wanted to be in the studio with them or have them all here with us in Palestine. I now understand how difficult it must be for Samar to see and hear us creating and feeding off one another’s energy. I began to feel like the left out kid at the lunch table that can only eavesdrop on everything that is going on around his/her ousted place.
Not only did their faces appear blurry but their movements were choppy and unclear. As dancers we are always encouraged to avoid marking (doing a movement at less than 100%) mostly because it trains your body to remember that way of moving, but as I am now realizing it is even more detrimental when rehearsing via Skype. It was extremely difficult for me to get a read on the details of a phrase, everything seemed to be blurring together. I can recall a few rehearsals when I couldn’t understand Samar’s frustrations and explanations of what she wanted from us; yet, now I can see that clarity from us is what she needs most. On the other side of things however, it was also important for me to tell Samar about the things she is unable to see like us taking time to work on solos and phrases outside of the frame of the Skype video and the moments spent in conversation with another about how to improve transitions and dynamics. Unfortunately, engagement and energy does not come through on some radar provided by Skype, not yet at least. During the course of the 4 hour rehearsal I was sure to take many notes to bring back and share with the dancers.
Towards the close of rehearsal the video stream became so delayed that though Zoe was in front of the computer typing, the video on our screen in Ramallah still showed her dancing a newly choreographed section… We shut down the live stream video and waited until the recorded video was uploaded to Vimeo the next day. We spent the next day mapping out further ideas from the video provided. We had to make do with what we had. It was our dance dujour and a rare chance for us to sit and spend time in the presence of one another.