When the accident happened and the daughter of one of one of the men who sponsors the festival died, plans for performances and workshops were suspended, and the possibility that the festival may end with the previous night’s performance was looming in the air. A funeral was to happen before any decisions were to be made about the continuation of the festival or a reshuffling of the order of show and technical rehearsals, with the lost day(s) in mind. Speculation abounded throughout the international community (Hungarians, Croatians, Algerians, Tunisians, Norwegians, Swiss, and us) who travelled to perform in the festival about whether or not any of us would still get to perform. The anticipation and honor to have the opportunity to perform on the same stage the very night after Sasha Waltz’s company were laid to rest, as our performance had already been temporarily cancelled if not permanently. What else would be trimmed from our trip itineraries in order to accommodate the shifting of schedules if our performances were rescheduled? Most of the companies who were to be featured in the program had come to Ramallah specifically to perform in this festival. Nina attributes it as the impetus for our entire 2010 tour. When she met the director of the festival in 2007, he told her that if she could raise the airfare to return with her company, they would host us while here. And true to this word, we were given accommodations, 3 meals a day, and transportation to and from the theater for rehearsals and performances. (I have never felt such support and validation as an artist before, especially not in my own country.) So, all of us had to live with the uncertainty of life in the middle east. We were told before leaving that that is how the people in the occupied territories live. Borders, homes and ephemeral peace change minute by minute, so locals develop a sense of fluidity instead of certainty about their lives, and to call them resilient is an understatement. So we waited. And we had an unexpected day off.
Before checking out our first Turkish bath of the trip, Mo and I wandered the streets of the old city Ramallah. We met a boy who wanted to be our friend. He introduced himself to us and asked what we were doing in town. Mo and I were hungry and tired and were having difficulty communicating with him, and honestly, we thought he kept telling us he was single and didn’t understand until later that he was trying to tell us that he was a singer. We weren’t really interested in being picked up on by a “single” 20 year old, so we said goodbye. Not 10 minutes later we ran into him again, this time he was with a boy that i recognized from the audience of the Sasha Waltz concert the previous night. We said hello again, and the boy who was at the show introduced himself as Khaled, and we began speaking and he told us that he danced for the local company Sareyyat. Instantly, there was so much more to speak about with him (and his English was much easier to understand): the genius of Ms. Waltz, the pains that the organizers of the festival had taken to bring us all together and support us while out in the middle east, what Mo’s and my experiences were like dancing with Nina Haft and Co.
Khaled and the Ramallah star came and sat down with us for lunch at a falafel shop. He helped us order, and discouraged us from buying bottled juice, because it was made in Israel (a scrutinization that i made many other times after that while in the occupied territories). Khaled will be leaving the middle east in August to attend a dance school in Brussels. For those of you who know, Brussels has been touted as one of the current hubs of contemporary dance centers in Europe, if not the world. Eventually, he wants to bring his skills back home and open a school in Ramallah. Until then, he lives the next few months in the village outside of Ramallah in which he’s always lived and travels hours each way in order to dance each day. He walks a couple of hours from his house to the bus stop, and then takes a bus to the big city. He does that both ways each day. He spoke about overcoming adversity with hard work. The other boy interjected about himself, adding happily that he will be competing on the West Bank version of American Idol. Mo also told me later that when they were alone, he told her that he was a star in Ramallah. We asked Khaled if he had heard him sing and he said in a very measured response, “Yes he’s a very talented singer, but he needs to work harder, be more serious about his work. He needs to dedicate his life to his art and live like a singer. He needs to focus more.” Soon we finished our lunch and said our goodbyes, hoping to see one another at the next performance, if the festival were to continue.
With fortuity on our part and dedication and good will on the part of the board and the father who had suffered a tragic loss, the festival schedule was negotiated, and the performances resumed in a different order. We performed on Thursday night, and sadly, many of the new friends we made had already left by then. Yet still, the audience was full, and there was a host of new artists arriving for their dates in the festival. And from within the threat of not being able to perform in Ramallah, the urge to complete this part of our mission grew much stronger in all of us. So we performed our piece at the end of our tour (instead of at the half way mark) informed by our trip to the Bethlehem refugee camps and our lessons learned about local culture and our newly formed friendships. We danced with a profound sense of gratitude for the opportunity and also with a new found personal understanding of the scaffolding with which Nina first imagined this piece: determination, oppression, hope, and reliance.