by Elizabeth Whelan for The Dance Journal
The lights go up on two women holding up peace signs—and each other. From the get-go, the scene is set; the political, cultural and social themes that will weave their way through the entirety of the work have taken root. It’s a sticky, humid Saturday night in Philadelphia, but from the moment the work begins, the audience doesn’t move, vigilantly watching as the story of WOMEN unfolds.
Body-based performing artist and Philadelphia native Nicole Bindler’s latest evening length work, WOMEN was presented this past Saturday at the Community Education Center in Powelton Village. Rooting back to its creation two years prior in Bethlehem, Palestine where Bindler travelled to work in collaboration with Diyar Theatre, WOMEN has now landed itself here in the States to begin a five city tour with upcoming performances taking place in Baltimore, Chicago, New York and Connecticut.
The story of women in Palestine has been buried below the rubble of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, which marked the establishment of Israel and the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians who fled from their homes that had become Israeli territory. While living in the United States for six years, Rami Khader, director of Diyar Theatre, noticed that Palestinian women were portrayed in the media as mourners, full of sadness and anger. WOMEN is an effort to let dance “humanize the Palestinians,” remarks Khader during the 30 minute post-performance discussion.
The three dancers, Christy Daboub, Dima Awad, and Ghadeer Odeh, brought this raw humanity to Philadelphia. Using hybrid-choreography that combined contemporary dance with traditional Palestinian folkloric dance called Dabke, Bindler worked alongside the dancers to create movement that would not only embody the struggle that Palestinian women have endured but to bring to light the reality that patriarchal oppression in occupied Palestine is not very different than that of women right here in America.
As the piece developed, various props were used to symbolize what Palestine has lost throughout their occupation under Israel. The dancers carried bowls of water into the space with intimate and unwavering attention, only to begin washing their hands as sounds of waves rushed through the theatre. Later in the evening, Khader mentioned that Bethlehem, where he lives, is surrounded by four Israeli settlements and encased by a massive wall, preventing the Palestinians from easily exiting their city. Water is made available once a month for the Palestinians, and passageway to the seas and rivers is prohibited. “Water is life, but we don’t have access to it,” says Khader.
Bindler’s choreography moved and washed across the floor as the three women swayed along with the tides of the sea they cannot visit. The weight of this dream world came crashing down on the audience as one by one, the women slammed rocks onto the floor creating a map of lost Palestinian cities. They kept haunting eye contact with the audience as they spoke aloud the names of each city in Arabic. When asked if they had any fears in this vulnerable performance, Daboub replied calmly, “When you live with something, you cannot have fear towards it. We feel the strength while we are dancing. We dance to say yes, we are under occupation. Yes, we are strong. We can face anything.”
The piece had its uplifting moments as well, mainly when they transitioned into Dabke, moving with rhythmic precision and confidence. Smiles emerged as they executed the dance of their Palestinian culture that has not been lost. Dabke, a dance that dates back to the beginning of Palestine, has always been a symbol of celebration and happiness. Danced by both men and women together, it offers a place for equality while in movement.
“With Israel spending so much money sending artists out as cultural ambassadors, Palestinian artists tend to fall to the shadows,” explains Bindler. The opportunity for Diyar Theatre to be travelling around the United States sharing their stories is special and necessary. In just 30 minutes of movement and 30 minutes of discussion, Bindler and Diyar Theatre open the door to conversation, reflection and a greater awareness of the state of Palestine, its women, and the bigger picture of inclusion and gender equality. “It’s hard to express oppression,” Daboub says. “If we wanted to show everything we’ve lived, the suffering, the show wouldn’t end.”
For more information on upcoming tour dates, visit http://www.nicolebindler.com/women