Palestine Star

•May 3, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Edmer and Frank are stiff competition for So You Think You Can Dance

Becky and Franking prepping for So You Think You Can Dance

Frances wins So You Think You Can Dance

the Ramallah star and Khaled the dancer

Frances's and Frank's American Idol shot

Edmer's American Idol Shot

Lisa's and Rebecca's American Idol Shot

Becky's and Mo's American Idol Shot

Becky’s blog

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.

Bethlehem, Aida, Ibdaa, Deheisheh

•April 28, 2010 • 4 Comments

Nina’s Blog:
It is Monday morning, and despite yesterday’s tragedy, we are on schedule to visit Bethlehem and Ibdaa Cultural Center. Ziad Abbas of Middle East Children’s Alliance in Berkeley has kindly arranged for us to meet his friend Areej, who will give us a tour. Later Areej will take us over to Ibdaa Cultural Center in Dheisheh Refugee Camp, where I visited one afternoon in 2007. Also helping guide us is Shadi, a warm, fun and informative man who makes sure that all our questions are answered.

Areej is young, political, articulate and incredibly passionate about community organizing; getting the word out about life in this small part of the world. She has been persistent in getting a hold of me, no small feat as my cell phone has not been working reliably since I arrived on this trip! Areej grew up in Dheisheh Refugee Camp just outside of Bethlehem, living with her family of 9 people in two rooms that are approximately 100 square meters apiece. She and Ziad have arranged everything for us; taxis to get to the Nativity Church where Jesus Christ was born; lunch in a local shawerma joint; another ride to Ibdaa Cultural Center; and a warm send off back to Ramallah.

Nasr, our church tour guide takes us through the 3 chapels contained within the Church of the Nativity (Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic). We see the place where Jesus was born, and the manger. How amazing that millions of people around the globe have had their lives changed by the events that took place here…

Areej accurately predicts that Nasr will avoid telling the story of the April 2002 Israeli siege of this very same church. Burns and bullet holes still riddle the inner walls of the cloisters. It is hard to imagine the many weeks of fear and gunfire that this now serene sanctuary once saw.

Next we tour Aida Refugee Camp, a crowded ‘slumlike’ area with about 5,000 residents. The words ‘refugee camp’ conjure up images of tents and mud for me, but this camp is full of grey concrete, and has existed for over 60 years. The residents print calendars that number every single day since leaving their homes. Palestinian camps are among the longest standing refugee camps in the world. Aida, Dheisheh and other Palestinian refugee camps are administered by the United Nations, and while the U.N. employes some of the local residents, it appears to me that they are regarded somewhat more as tenement landlords.

Ramallah: so much to tell you….

•April 27, 2010 • 3 Comments

Nina’s Blog:
So much has happened in the 3 days since we left Amman for Ramallah, that we’ve barely had time to sleep, so apologies for the delay in posts!

We pile on a large bus with the dancers from Tunisia, Algeria and Croatia on Saturday morning.  Nisreen Naffa’ is our fearless leader (a volunteer with the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival and Program Officer for the Qattan Foundation). Nisreen escorts us across the border between Jordan and Palestine.  There are many stages to this journey, including our bus driver getting lost in Amman; Jordanian passport control; crossing the River Jordan; Israeli passport control (Israel governs this border between the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Jordan) and more.  Although we have just met our traveling companions, we are already dismayed when they are treated entirely differently than the Croatians and ourselves at the border.  You see, our friends from Arab countries (Tunisia and Algeria) are requesting not to have their passports stamped with an Israeli visa – if this happens, they will not be allowed to return home!  The Americans and Croatians also make this request – we too ask to have our stamp on the separate piece of paper so that we have the option to travel to other Arab countries, such as Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Algeria, and others.

The Tunisian and Algerian dancers are delayed by 2.5 hours, and we hear much yelling on that side of the room…. Nisreen handles it all with aplomb, knowing that as a Palestinian she is in a precarious situation, and must hold firm to what has been arranged with Israeli officials while cooperating with the extremely young border control employees she now encounters.

We make it!  After more than 8 hours in transit, for a journey that might only take 3 hours as the crow flies…we arrive at our hotel in Ramallah.  We quickly drop our bags, I go change some dollars into NIS (new israeli shekels) and we all go over to the Al-Kasabah Theatre for tonight’s performance of Zweiland by Sasha Waltz’ Company.  The show is amazing, the theatre is beautiful, the audience is packed and they leap to their feet for a standing ovation.  Later on we eat a late dinner with the Sasha Walz dancers and learn that the evening reception has been cancelled due to a car accident involving a family member of our host organization.

By morning we learn that this accident has resulted in the death of Maitha Khoury, the daughter of the Chairman of the Board of our host organization, Sareyyet Ramallah.  Tragically, this lovely 14 year old girl was heading home from a basketball game when her car flipped over.  We also learn that our hotelier, Munther Qare, was driving behind Maitha’s car. When Munther jumped out to help the crash victims, he discovers that his daughter Nadine was also in this car, riding with Maitha, as they are best friends.  Ambulances are few and far between in Ramallah, and there are no Jaws of Life, so Munther and other bystanders lift the car with their bare hands and transport the young girls to the hospital.

So this morning is the dawn of a miracle for Munther, and a tragic loss for the Sareyyet community.  Sareyyet is an 80 year old community organization dedicated especially to youth development; not only do they sponsor the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival, but also many sports, recreation and community programs for people of all ages.  This loss is felt by the community at large, and so the day is set aside for funeral preparations.  Our show tonight is cancelled.

We take this unplanned day off to walk our new city, and to attend Maitha’s funeral at the Greek Orthodox Church near the Old City.  We walk in the funeral procession, quietly joining the hundreds of young people, women and men who gather to honor Maitha and her family.  Intense is not a strong enough word to describe what it is like to attend a funeral in Ramallah.  Somehow knowing that so many young lives are cut short here, that so many youth shed tears and march solemnly for their peers, resonates in this moment.  It makes me realize how powerful media images are – do we even imagine that people in Ramallah deal with everyday tragedies alongside those that come with living under occupation?

We find out later that night that Maitha’s father, Sareyyet’s Chairman, has decided not to cancel the dance festival, even though tradition would dictate 3 days with no official events at Sareyyet.  We learn that the presence of all the dancers and international guests at the funeral have brought him comfort; that he knows that this day – like every other – is not in their hands; that they are accustomed to working under such unexpected difficulty; the shows must go on.

We are rescheduled to perform 4 days later.  Of course, we rearrange our plans for the week, and head off to Bethlehem for the day….

when I fall in love…

•April 24, 2010 • 1 Comment

Frances Sedayao’s blog:
It’s 3 a.m. I’m sitting in bed wondering why I am not able to sleep on this last night we are here in Amman. It could very well be the coffee I had after dinner. But wait. I chased that down with 2 glasses of wine, which, for those who know me, will knock me right out.

So I wonder. Could this be that I had fallen in love? Yes, I had fallen in love with…the lamb shawarma i had for lunch today, courtesy of Nina; the darling Jordanian kids who waved and smiled at Becky Chun as we ventured the Citadel of Amman today; the Theatre staff at the Cultural Center who tendered us with laughter, stories, and a brief comraderie which has already bridged future connections; the sound and art of the Arabic language of which about 5 words I know at present; the openness, beauty, and hospitality of ‘men’ in Jordan; the wealth of history and legacy that live in the rocks, the air, the land and its people, the women of Amman, mysterious and lovely behind their pashminas; the boy in the wheelchair, eyes-shut, mouth open, seemingly near death, the pure angel of Amman; the traffic patrol woman who stood in the midst of Amman’s superhighway at the height of rush hour traffic; that same woman who governed at least 3 lanes of traffic in 4 different directions in a city where men dominate the streets.

So I wonder. How soon, if ever, will I get over the heartbreak of unrequited love? Will the pure angel of Amman still be sitting in his wheelchair tomorrow? Does the woman on the highway wear her pashmina at home? Does she have a husband and kids to go home to and cook for? What are her dreams and does she love lamb shawarmas as much as I do? Will I return here?

When I fall in love, I dance. So I wonder, Amman shall we dance again?

Check out these photos from our show in Amman!

•April 23, 2010 • 1 Comment

Culture, capital and community…

•April 23, 2010 • 1 Comment

Rebecca’s Blog:
We had the pleasure of dancing on a shared program at the Amman Contemporary Dance Festival with a Norwegian duo. They used interactive video and a complex range of contemporary dance vocabulary, rich with gesture, contact improvisation and a theatrical edge. The Norwegian Ambassador in Amman, Jordan attended the show and we were, as a result, invited to join him and his family and the cast and producers at his home for a post-show celebration.

Amongst the many amazing moments performing and meeting people that evening, I am thinking a lot today about my conversation with Lina Attel, Director General of the National Centre for Culture and Arts in Amman. She is a vibrant woman with an expansive and generous intellect. Lina is passionate about living in Jordan and the context this provides for her personal and professional life. Along with Frances, we talked small talk and art talk and eventually moved into talking about the big picture. I asked her about homelessness in Jordan because we had walked the day prior in the downtown area and this was not present in the city as we see in San Francisco and the Bay Area in general. With millions of people living in Amman, we wondered how this was possible…

Lina explained that everyone feels the obligation to take care of others. Whether this is motivated by a sense of empathy or a sense of pride, it is nonetheless an important element of the culture here. Everyone looks to themselves and to others to take care of those in need. The government doesn’t provide subsidy; rather, the people and NGOs and other charities, and especially the mosques, take care of those who need help. From this specific question, we immediately got into that big picture, talking about materialism as a driving force in identity and what other forces might be core in our identity. When Lina explained that she thought the difference was that, in its roots, her culture is a tribal culture, I was feeling many things: moved, inspired, sad, disappointed, hopeful and aware. I have long thought about how we could, in our culture, keep the best of capitalism (a reality unlikely to change soon for us) without losing a sense of tribe, community, family [insert your own word here – anything that expresses a way of life that connects us beyond fulfilling our own needs.] If we could do this…this has been a question for me. I have tried in my own way to create a personal life that would honor this mode of life beyond self and understanding that this culture is informed by this need from its roots was a revelation. It helped me see better where I live and come from by seeing a beautiful fact of someone else’s culture. Yes, Jordan has many challenges to contend with, but this fact made me see something that we might be missing on some level in the United States. And that, perhaps, each of us finding a way to commit to this tribal element in our culture would be a way of blossoming from where we are now…and honoring some of our human history’s traditional ways of living and living together.

By no means wanting to be didactic in this posting – I hope that comes through. But it was an impossibly beautiful moment that captured, for me, one of the reasons I am so honored to be on this trip: learning from someone who is both in love with and in critical dialogue with her own culture and helping me to remember to continue to do the same in my own. –Rebecca

Universal Youth

•April 23, 2010 • 1 Comment

Mo’s Blog

Today Nina taught class for us and a group of youth dancers at the National Center for Culture and Performing Arts. They are trained in ballet technique and have only had contact with modern dance through workshops and guest choreographers from places like France, Finland, and the U.S. There were three young women and a young man and they were all incredibly open and sponge-like in their absorption of Nina’s movement style and words of wisdom. It was a wonderful experience to dance with them and speak with them about what it is like to dance in Amman, Jordan. For them, dance is not a career option. They do it because they love it. It is a hobby to which they dedicate the majority of their free time. One dancer commutes to her university one-hour each way every day and still finds time to get to the studio for classes and performances in addition to her studies.

Today was especially enjoyable for me because I work with the Youth Ensemble at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley. The group consists of 8 young women who spend three days a week taking classes in modern dance and ballet and rehearsing the work of various Bay Area choreographers. They too dance because they love it. They make sacrifices in order to dance and perform, and somehow they manage to maintain high academic achievement, foster close relationships to friends and family, and be beautiful young women in the world. I was struck today by the commonalities between the young dancers in Berkeley, CA and those halfway around the world in Amman, Jordan. Dance is truly a language of its own. It is a passion that people share in any country in any situation in any time in any way. It is inspiring to see these young people pursuing dance and working so hard and I am excited to see how dance changes and is changed by them.

hi mom and dad 🙂

day 3, or is it day 4?

•April 22, 2010 • 2 Comments

Becky’s blog

This is the second morning waking up in our hotel, but we have 4 days of travel together under our dance belts now. One performance down, 5 to go? The number is nebulous, since we have formal concerts and informal showings scheduled. We started the day off being picked up at the ungoldly hour of 8am today for a 10am matinee. At the moment we’re on break, counting down the minutes until we get to eat hummous for the second time today (yum!!–no irony intended). Then, we go back to the theater for our second performance of the day. Outside, the call to prayer winds like a river until it touches our ears. A single voice, no instruments, just devotion and guidance. Pause now, it says. Remember why you’re here. It’s mesmerizing every time. I can’t help but wonder though, what happens to the hotel attendant who’s getting orange juice for his guest? Does he save a prayer until his long line of French, American and Thai tourists has dissipated in satisfaction? Or does he send a quick multi-tasked one to allah in his mind in between handing out clean towels and teaching westerners how to say hello in Arabic?

•April 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Lisa’s Blog We left SFO Sunday night and now it’s Wednesday night but it will be only our second night spent sleeping horizontally! Despite waking to the mournful singing in the early morning darkness of the call to prayer from our neighborhood mosque, we awoke fairly refreshed and ready for the day’s adventures. Our hotel is pretty swank with all the ameneties, including buffet meals 3 times a day (of which the festival is affording us 2 per day), a lounge with a small bar where we’ve had coffee, Turkish coffee, wine, and beer), ‘business center’ with computers on which you can buy internet time, fitness room, and swimming pool room with sauna and hot tub. These latter two ameneties are accessable by men and women at different times of the day. However, Mohammed, our gracious concierge and former Dabkeh dancer, assured us that, while men cannot enter these rooms during “women time”, it would be absolutely okay for the women of our group to use them during “men time”. So, after our walking tour of the morning and tech rehearsal of the afternoon, we did. Edmer and Frank decided not to use the pools but exercise. There were several men in the pool when we got there, who gradually left it as we entered it–that was after we had been ushered into a dressing room where a gentleman was pulling on his pants… We found the hot tub scalding, but tried the sauna instead. One man ventured in with us and, after hearing our conversation, revealed that he’d visited the States. We had a pleasant conversation with him, but I’ve decided to stick to “women time” in the future!

The Red Eye, a day in NYC then….JOOOORRRDAAAANNNN (said like Oprah)

•April 21, 2010 • 1 Comment

Edmer’s Blog:
I believe I had a total of 3 hours of sleep since we left San Francisco Sunday night, had the 12 hour layover in New York and the 11 hour flight to Amman. I finally slept Tuesday night at 11:30pm in the Jordanian time zone. This trip is important to me for two reasons. One, this would be my first trip to another country since moving to the U.S. in November 1984- I was 4yrs old. Two, this is my first dance perforamance in another country- I’m 31 now. I could NOT believe all of this was coming to fruition until we finally landed in Amman. Immediately after leaving the plane, a man started asking for my passport. I was puzzled as to why I needed to relinquish my passport to this complete stranger until I finally realized he was connected with the Amman Contemporary Dance Festival. His name was Ahmed. He got us through the lines pretty quickly and onto our hotel- The Arena Space Hotel. We were served “Tang” upon arrival to the hotel as our welcome refreshment. How could we say no??? The Jordanian people are very hospitable. So, the first thing I do at the hotel after 3 hours of sleep is go the gym to lift weights and do my aerobic exercise…pretty craaazzyyy.