Badke - a Belgian-Palestinian Dance Production

Photographer: ©DannyWillems

The title is a deliberate reversal of ‘dabke’, the name of a Palestinian folk dance. A trio consisting of Koen Augustijnen, Rosalba Torres Guerrero (les ballets C de la B) and Hildegard De Vuyst (KVS) are responsible for this production, in collaboration with ten Palestinian performers from different genres: ranging from the traditional dabke, modern dance, hip-hop and capoeira to circus.

A number of variants of dabke exist, but broadly speaking you have on the one hand the dabke as a popular, social, people’s dance at weddings and other celebrations, and on the other you have the ‘academic’ dabke that requires training and which travels the world as a representative of Palestinian national ambitions. The latter is a stylised, cleaned-up version of the former, and is often injected with tales of Palestinian suffering and symbols of expulsion and displacement.

For Badke, everyone agreed that they should make a contemporary version of the first variant: an eruption of joy, an extremely vital, physical expression that exudes solidarity, and an affirmation of belonging somewhere. In the contemporary dance field, with its emphasis on individuality and reflection, you’d be hard pushed to find this sort of collective physicality. At the heart of the ‘social’ dabke there is something unique that the Palestinian dancers can proudly show to the rest of the world.

But Badke is not a search for a long-lost authenticity. That’s why its creators have also incorporated globalised forms of popular ‘art’ like capoeira, circus, hip-hop and even the work of Walt Disney. Thus Badke becomes a vital form of collective ‘belonging somewhere’ in a globalised context, whilst simultaneously expressing the desire to be a part of the wider world. How much contemporary information can the dabke bear? Can you give a different twist to this almost canonised folk dance? How flexible is the tradition? And how can you question the folk dance without scaring people off? These are the key questions.

Furthermore, all that glitters is not gold: under the occupation, solidarity is often somewhat forced, whilst beneath the surface the in-fighting continues; in society, social control is mostly a death knoll for individual aspirations: being a professional dancer is regarded as little better than being a sex worker (and there aren’t any of those!). And then we still haven’t touched on the violence that is part of everyday life. This other reality forces itself up through the celebratory surface of Badke, like icy gusts of winds through the cracks in a poorly insulated house. But in the end, one thought prevails: we will not allow ourselves be put down, not by anyone. We will dance until we collapse.

Produced by:

“Badke is an artistic collaboration between les ballets C de la B (Ghent), KVS (Brussels) and the A.M. Qattan Foundation (Ramallah); the KVS is the initiator and executive producer. Co-produced by Theaterspektakel Zürich and Grand Théâtre Luxemburg.

Les ballets C de la B is an artistic platform based in Ghent (Belgium) with Alain Platel as its central figure, choreographer and director (www.lesballetscdela.be)

KVS is the Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (Royal Flemish Theatre) in Brussels (Belgium), known for building bridges between different communities in the divided Belgian capital, and internationally recognised for its artistic exchanges with the Congo and Palestine (www.kvs.be).

The A.M. Qattan Foundation, with branches in Ramallah and Gaza, is a private foundation that invests in culture and education in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (www.qattanfoundation.org).

Since 2007, these organisations have been linking up for a series of multi-disciplinary, long-term workshops with young potential Palestinian performers, dubbed the Performing Arts Summer School (PASS). This has already meant that a number of young Palestinians have received professional training: Ahmad Tubassi as an actor at Nordic Black in Oslo, Khaled Barghouti as a dancer at Artesis Hogeschool in Antwerp, Rimah Jabr as a theatre-maker at the Rits in Brussels, and Dalia Taha as a playwright in the drama department at Brown University.

With Badke they are already clocking up their third production. The first, In the Park, was the substantial outcome of a four-week workshop in August 2009, conceived as a collaborative creative process. The second was the theatre project Keffiyeh/Made in China directed by Bart Danckaert and Joris Vandenbrande and based on the writing of the Palestinian writer Dalia Taha. This production, with 5 Belgian and 5 Palestinian actors, premièred at the KVS in March 2012, and toured the West Bank and Arab theatres in Israel. You can find more information about PASS on the KVS website: www.kvs.be/palestina (NL) or www.kvs.be/palestine (E + F)

Headed by:

Koen Augustijnen worked for years as a choreographer at les ballets C de la B when it was still a collective. He started out there as a performer in Alain Patel’s work, but has now been creating his own work now for 15 years. His recent work includes the solo Gudirr Gudirr with Aboriginal dancer Dalisa Pigram, and he will shortly be starting work with the Oldenburg dance ensemble.

Rosalba Torres Guerrero is a dancer with nearly 9 years at Rosas, Anne Teresa De Keersmaker’s company, under her belt; she subsequently worked for 7 years with Alain Platel at les ballets C de la B. In 2012, she created her own dance video work called Pénombre. She recently collaborated with Warlikowski on the opera production Lulu, and was herself directed in German by Karin Beier of Schauspielhaus Hamburg, both of which are new collaborations that will continue in the future.

Hildegard de Vuyst has been a member of KVS’s artistic staff for 12 years, has been Alain Platel’s dramaturge since 1995, and is the inspirer and coordinator of PASS, the KVS Palestine project.

This trio is together responsible for the production. The groundwork for this collaboration had already been laid. As a dramaturge, Hildegard De Vuyst worked on the first independent works of both Koen Augustijnen (To Crush Time) and Rosalba Torres Guerrero (Pénombre). As a trio, they previously worked together in Palestine in the summer of 2009, when they made In the Park with ten young Palestinians, the result of a 4-week creative process, which in May 2010 was invited to perform at the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival.

In collaboration with - dansers

Fadi Smorrod, 32, co-founder of and trainer at the Palestinian Circus School, studied at the Vertigo Cirkus School in Turin (Italy), and specialises in the Chinese pole and the Cyr wheel.

Ashtar Muallem, 23, took his first steps in theatre at Ramallah’s Ashtar Theatre, and in the dance world at the YWCA in Jerusalem, went on to join the Palestine Circus and completed his training in ‘silks’ at the Centre National des Arts du Cirque in France.

Farah Saleh, 28, a member of Sarriyet Ramallah, studied in Italy, has absorbed all kinds of dance information, completed an internship at les ballets C de la B during the creation of Out of Context, and was awarded a bursary for the Cité Internationale in Paris, where she took an in-depth look at Feldenkreiss, among other things. She did the first creation of her own, called Ordinary Madness, at Sarriyet Ramallah.

Yazan Eweidat, 22, a member of Sarriyet Ramallah, but also likes ‘playing’ with the Palestinian Circus, dances dabke and contemporary, but above all would like to train as a physical actor.

Salma Ataya, 22, a member of Sarriyet Ramallah, started out as a dabke dancer, but is currently focussing mainly on the study of contemporary dance techniques: she is particularly fascinated by the release technique.

Ata Khatab, 24, is a member of El Funoun, the Ramallah-based dabke group with an international reputation. Atta is a dabke fanatic through and through, but wants to extend his own boundaries.

Mohammad Samahnah, 22, is self-taught and exceptionally talented; will have a go at anything, dabke or hip-hop, popping or locking.

Maali Maali, 24, is the joint founder and trainer of a dance group in Ramallah that aims to produce highly spectacular, acrobatic dance influenced by capoeira, parcours and kung fu.

Samaa Wakim, 26, is the only ‘professional’ dancer with dance training, which she undertook as a Palestinian resident of Israel. She studied classical and modern dance at a dance school on a kibbutz, but subsequently changed to theatre. She studied drama at the University of Haifa. She is also a member of Shiberhurr, the theatre company headed by the Palestinian director Amir Nizar Zuabi in Haifa.

Badke is the result of a collaborative working method. The material mainly consists of material contributed by the dancers, created in response to questions and suggestions. In August 2012, the first month of work in Beit Jala (near Bethlehem) featured questions like: What does dabke mean to you? How do you relate to your own body? How do you relate to other people’s bodies? What does ‘manliness’ mean? On http://vimeo.com/49587413 there is a short film with material from the first month of rehearsals. In May and June, the Palestinians came to rehearse in Brussels for 2 months. In mid-August, they went back to give it its final shape and to prepare for the première in Zurich (at Theaterspektakel).

Other artistic contributors:

The music is by Naser Al-Faris, leader of a ‘ballroom orchestra’ on the West Bank, notorious for its weddings. A 15-minute long ‘mijwiz’ that one of the dancers brought with him was stretched to 50 minutes by Sam Serruys. At the start, the music is irresistible, but it later becomes unbearable; here too, pleasure and pain are closely linked. The ‘mijwiz’ is a stimulating type of dabke music in which the leading role is assigned to a woodwind instrument consisting of 2 bamboo pipes blown using one reed. In amongst the music, Naser Al-Faris greets the partygoers that he knows, or might make an announcement that a Mitsubishi jeep is wrongly parked. Steve Lorie twiddles the knobs for the sound effects, mixing live sirens, electronic sounds, drones and dripping water into the buzz of the party.

Zina Zarour was the highly regarded assistant director who ensured that none of the material went missing. She filmed everything and arranged the equipment so that we could easily find everything again, put together nice short films, was forever translating and was present at all artistic discussions.

It wasn’t easy for Britt Angé to get things exactly the way each individual wanted them – that endless search for the right shoes – you don’t come to a ‘party’ in basketball shoes – and the right skirts – sexy without giving too much away – but he succeeded magnificently in the task of being non-anecdotally festive.

Ralf Nonn does the lightdesign, which was not easy in such a ‘neutral’ space, which, apart from the water cooler – a practical necessity but also a reference point in the room – does not contain any significant elements.