Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
July 14, 2015
We open in the dark (or as near as possible in these days of bright emergency lights). The stage is bare of set or props. An insistent rhythm is stamped into the floor, the age-old drumming of the partridge and hare in human form. “I am here, I am here, I am here….” Gradually the lights come up to reveal a line of bodies, linked with arms on shoulders, and the drumming becomes a dance.
The group coheres, parts, squabbles, coheres again. Bodies bounce off each other or along the floor in improbable ways. Dancers tumble, spar, embrace and shimmy solipsistically. A girl in a red dress stands and observes the action briefly, glowering, before flinging herself into the action once more. Legs link behind a back to enable two dancers to interact at torso-level, seemingly casually co-operating to support each other’s weight whilst simultaneously flailing antagonistic arms in each other’s face. Bodies ripple with incredible muscle isolations, neurons firing at minute levels to control every twitch. Then a man becomes a swan, boureeing with arms rippling before abandoning the joke and melding into the melee like a mirage, a Schroedinger’s cat of a bird that was/wasn’t. A man flings his partner round, wrenching arm in socket to throw her to the edge of the centripetal force, then grabbing her again to pull her into the centrifuge of his own making.
All is accompanied by a thumping, beat and a caller – presumably incomprehensible to most of the non-Arabic-speaking audience, but urging the dancers on and on.
Then the power is cut. No lights. No sound. An air raid? A near-by explosion? Or just one of those interruptions of supply common in the occupied territories? The break is brief. They have learned how to live like this. Voices existed before electricity recorded and amplified them, bodies will move until they are forcibly stilled. The dance goes on.
It is a dance of community, a dance of celebration, a dance of protest, a dance of life, a dance of death. Plucked from the wedding, the street and the living room, it bursts onto the stage to throb insistently its message of conflict and resolution, despair and hope.
Then it slows. Dancers take red cloths, wind them onto their heads as keffiyehs and huddle in a corner. The cloths are peeled off, flung to land in the wings, drape the bars, or skid across the floor. The line re-assembles, arms drape across shoulders and a slow, kneeling movement snakes along to coalesce until the dancers are in unison, facing the audience, winding down into the final bowed heads that stops the dance.