Bloomsbury Theatre, London

A Spellbinding Show of Artistic Resistance

The contemporary dance show was a masterpiece of storytelling, perfectly evoking the tragedy which thousands of Palestinians who struggle for family reunification face every day in a country determined to make that simple human right almost insurmountable.

By Katy Weitz

Last night I was honoured to be among the audience at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London treated to a spellbinding performance of the contemporary dance show Curfew.

It was all more astonishing for the fact that the show was created and workshopped by two groups thousands of miles apart who had days to come together as a cohesive unit.

Hawiyya , the all-female dance group, is based in the UK while El-Fanoun is a Palestinian troupe.

But from the very start the diverse team of dancers moved and behaved as one, bound together by forces acting on them from all directions.

The piece created a suffocating, almost oppressive atmosphere with imaginative sound and light effects, the dancers at times manipulated, struck or even stuck to their place on the stage. They were spotlighted by a bright light, peeling away in fear, one at a time, from a terrifying presence, and then in contrast, they became mesmerised by the light, drawn towards it, crawling over one another, remaining connected for safety and reassurance of the group.

They strove to resist, their energetic moves often frustrated, defeated, one by one, by the overwhelming power of their oppressor.

A pile of newspapers landed with a thud at the corner of the stage and the dancers attempted to grapple with the news, sometimes literally choking on it.

They were attacked and assaulted by those papers in some of the most creative dance I’ve ever seen on stage. The papers themselves almost seemed to come alive, their open pages suddenly rushing towards the faces of the dancers in a way that was both shocking and sinister.

Then, in a second, the lights were gone and the faces of the performers were lit by the mobile phones in their hands.

Each dancer struggled in their own way with their circumstances, posing the question to the audience itself: how will you respond to the news? How will you react to oppressive forces? What is your responsibility in the face of injustice?

This ensemble piece was followed by another powerful performance — ‘Love in the Time of Apartheid’ — by just one man, the artistic director of the show Sharaf DarZaid from El -Funoun.

This piece took a more narrative form, telling the true story of DarZaid’s own struggle to be united with his Danish-born wife in Palestine where overweening Israeli bureaucracy makes ordinary life almost impossible.

Both the external conflict and internal stress were brilliantly portrayed by DarZaid in an emotive performance that captured the madness, the Kafkaesque complexity and impossibility of the rules he was forced to live by.

He exploded with action, then imploded with frustration. At one point the words literally burst out of his mouth: ‘I love both her and my homeland — it is not either /or..’

The dance was a masterpiece of storytelling, perfectly evoking the tragedy which thousands of Palestinians who struggle for family reunification face every day in a country determined to make that simple human right almost insurmountable.

Afterwards, the performers took part in an illuminating Q&A hosted by playwright and former dancer Ahmed Masoud who revealed the very real risks the Palestinian dancers face, just for expressing their feelings and heritage through dance.

One Palestinian member of El Fanoun, Ata Khattab, was arrested in February last year during a raid on his home and was in prison for over a year without charge or trial.

His family believe he was targeted for his work leading the vibrant revival of dabke. The performers all took turns to discuss their working methods, how they came together as a group, their motivations and how they regard ‘art as resistance’.

It was an inspirational evening and one which I will never forget.

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