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By Ahmed Masoud
Al Zaytouna is a UK-based Palestinian dabke dance group that aims to provide diverse audiences the opportunity to experience Palestinian dabke through performances, workshops, and classes.
The members of the group, both Palestinian and others, reside in the United Kingdom and work to promote Palestinian culture in the West. As an art form, dabke is very effective in revealing certain aspects of Palestinian culture, in particular the significance of Palestinian celebrations, especially weddings, harvests, and other symbols of regeneration.
The group has around 30 members and two teams, one based in London and one in Nottingham. Since its creation in 2006, the group has worked to spread greater understanding and appreciation of Palestinian culture and to showcase this culture through high-profile productions, which include Hassad Al Zaytouna; Palestine Dances Dabke, a joint project between Al Zaytouna and El-Funoun Dance Troupe; and Four Heartbeats, One Rhythm in Nottingham.
With the music of Dal’Ouna and Zareef, London audiences enjoyed Al Zaytouna’s three-night production commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Nakba that was staged at London’s Greenwood Theatre in May 2008. The production, ILA HAIFA, is the first adaptation of Ghassan Kanafani’s Returning to Haifa, and fuses music, theatre, and contemporary and traditional Palestinian dance. In an article for Al-Ayyam newspaper dated 12 May 2008, Khaled Hroub described the show as “a departure from weeping and a new declaration of life…. A perfect show of traditional dance, contemporary and expressive art, singing, and oud music that were all brilliantly connected.” Newsline described the show as a “defiant celebration of resistance.”
The various scenes of the novel, which reflect the plight of Palestinians during the Nakba and other historical events, were translated into dance movements which gripped the viewers. The Nakba scene shocked the audience by its stark simplicity, which was based mainly on imagination and basic dance steps. Al Zaytouna members played both Israeli soldiers and Palestinians. The confrontation scene was interrupted by the voice of Mohamed Diab - of Al-Ashiqine group fame. While Mohamed sang “Min Sijin Akka” (“From the Prison of Acre”), the dancers exquisitely interpreted the song. The scene was a revolution in Palestinian choreography.
The return journey of Safiyya and Said, the couple who were hoping to visit their old house (from which they were expelled) and who were looking for their daughter, was a blend of anger, resistance, and celebration of cultural identity.
Safiyya’s decision to move on and go back to the refugee camps to tell her story and teach other children their culture is consistent with Kanafani’s message. Like most Palestinians, Al Zaytouna looks forward to a better future with people who understand the painful history of their own people and desire to preserve and protect their culture as a testimony to their right to the land.
The show ends with a feast of colours and a mixture of well-choreographed dances. The passion of the dancers, actors, and musicians makes the show one to remember and a piece that makes all of us proud to be who we are.
For more information about the show and Al Zaytouna, please visit www.alzaytouna.org.
Ahmed Masoud, director of Al Zaytouna, is from Gaza and has been living in the United Kingdom for the last six years. He is working on a PhD in Palestinian Literature at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He can be reached at www.ahmedphd.org.
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