Dancing on the Edge Festival, Brakke Grond, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; November 14, 2013
Dabke is traditional Palestinian folk dance, “Badke” is something else. Invert that first syllable and the change is like Alice slipping down the rabbit hole. Think ‘Bad’ as in Michael Jackson, not as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary and you’re on the right track.
A line of dancers shuffles onto the darkened stage, harbouring in their midst a nucleus of energy. Like a slow rumble of thunder, the insistent dabke rhythm starts to make itself heard. The group are restless, the tension becomes unbearable and then the volcano explodes. Lights! Action! And the dancers flood forward leaping and whooping.
“Badke” is part of the Dancing on the Edge festival of Arab culture that takes place every second year in Holland. Founded by Gary Feingold in 2007, it is a unique gathering of visual artists, theatre groups and dancers and this year included entries from Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and even a work in progress from Syria.
“Badke” is an international collaboration. Koen Augustijnen and Rosalba Torres Guerrero from Les Ballets C de la B, together with dramaturg Hildegard De Vuyst from KVS (the Royal Flemish Theatre), have worked with the dancers to create the 70-minute work. The raw energy of the traditional has been transformed into a theatre piece; balancing movement with stillness, ensemble with individual. The development of dance in Palestine is impeded by a lack of meaningful training programmes but several of the dancers have enjoyed scholarships to train abroad and each brought their own style to the mix: hip hop, circus, contemporary dance, capoeira. The level of energy moved right off the scale. “The Rite of Spring” with a dance to the death that I saw in London the night before paled into insignificance in the face of this tornado.
The mix was not only in the dance styles but also in the home locations of the dancers with crucial implications. The ten Palestinians came from Galilee, Jerusalem and Ramallah and the political ramifications of the region mean that each group holds a different identity card that restricts travel to just that area. So to get to rehearsals in Ramallah involved illegal travel for many. But never underestimate a dancer, and danger was the added spice that gave the show its unique flavour.
The bodies throbbed with pent up energy released in bursts of acrobatics from circus artists, Ashtar Muallem and Fadi Zmorrod or a touch of hip hop virtuosity from brothers, ‘Berjez’ and Samir Smahneh. A tiny dancer, Selma Attaya, became a human canon, tossed into the air by the group and relishing every moment. Duets established emotional contact and solos allowed individual expression in a kaleidoscopic slice of life.
Dabke is more than just a dance, it is the repository of a culture under pressure in the struggle to create a national identity. Dabke is Palestine giving two fingers to life under occupation and “Badke” has the attitude to get the message across.