Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Running Dramaturgy: Yazan Iwidat @ Edfringe 2017

Dance Double Bill
Demonstration Room, Summerhall, 4 - 27 August 2017 (not 7, 14 or 21) | 13:35 (14:20) 

A double bill of new contemporary dance from Palestine and Egypt focusing on identity, homeland, body politics and societal pressures questioning what it means to be Arab today.

Running Away 
Describe your story to us. What led you to become a contemporary dancer that’s about to perform in the world’s biggest arts festival?

I started doing dabkeh (a traditional Levantine dance) with the First Ramallah Group as a kid. That was my start, really. I then moved onto to contemporary dancing. I was one of the first people to be involved in Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival. I started taking workshops and acclimating myself more and more with contemporary dancing. I worked with a bunch of different international acts around the same time as well.  That led me to start getting into auditions and then moving on to creating and participating in performances. 

I choreographed my first contemporary arts performance in 2015. It was entitled “Empty Head”. I performed it in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year as well. Now, I’ve created a new performance called “Running Away”, which will get its first bow on European soil in Edinburgh after it was performed across several different locations in the Middle East. 

How has your transition from a classical form of dancing such as dabkeh to contemporary dancing been like?

Well, I was part of a group of dabkeh dancers at the beginning. After a while, we came to a collective decision to try out a new form of dancing. We started with a contemporary dance performance called “At the Checkpoint” in 2009. It was considered the very first contemporary dance project in Palestine at the time. I never really stopped dabkeh, though. I only stopped when I moved out of Palestine three years ago, but I always try to dance it on the side. 

What would you say is the main inspiration behind your performances?

It depends. My different forms of living are really the biggest inspiration. In “Running Away”, for example, I talk about a guy that really has a lot of doubts about whether to move out or stay in Palestine. He considers whether he will fit in elsewhere. 

It obviously comes from the actual situation that I’m living. There are so many questions involved here obviously. All of them are asked in the performance, without providing any answer, because I simply don’t know it at this point. At the end of the performance, I come to the realization that every person has to cut his umbilical cord from his country and try to do something else. 

The political situation of Palestine definitely plays a part in that and allows me to tackle the issue on a personal and political level. I wouldn’t say that my performance is political, but it definitely has a political layer to it. I always try to link my performance to political situations in a subtle way. “Empty Head” was similarly personal, yet a lot of people told me that they felt a political element in it. I guess I always try to let the audience think about the performance and discover what they want to take away from it. 

Do you tailor your act to where you perform it in?

No. That’s one of my main rules. I never change the performance to please people. You got to say what you need to say as an artist. If people like it, they like it; if they don’t, they don’t. I always put really subtle nuances or things that can’t be discussed in the Arab world into my performances. 

For example, “Running Away” is controversial to many because it portrays Palestine as a prison that someone is trying to run away from. Some people liked it, others didn’t. That’s the debate that we’re creating. 

Is the performance a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

I think so. First of all, when we talk Palestine, we always think that the performance is going to be political and very traditional. That’s something that I challenge. I try to illustrate that Palestinians aren’t always limited in their acts. We’re also capable of being personal in tackling human issues.

Syria is currently suffering from the very same problem. If you imagine a Syrian performance at this very moment, it somehow has to talk about refugees. This is the actual situation that we’re dealing with. If you’re Palestinian, you have to talk about the conflict with Israel. It’s not a stereotype; it’s just the first thing that usually comes to mind. 

But, we’re also capable of talking about love, poverty, or any human emotion, really. I’m part of a group of Arab dancers that’s trying to challenge the status quo and talk about different things. 

I think that putting together a bunch of Arab acts, as is the case with Arab Arts Focus in Edinburgh, will be very interesting for many people to see. We all have common things between us, of course, since we come from the same area on the map, and thus mostly have gone through a lot of the same issues. 

What could festival goers expect from your performance?

They could expect to watch a dancer getting lost in space during the discovery of a whole different world where a Palestinian isn’t talking about Palestine and is instead portraying his own issues as a person. 

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