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Prserving culture by dance

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 18.09.2009:

Cultural Preserves

By Basil Ayish

The bountiful harvests of Palestinian fellaheen who supply the rest of us with springtime mishmish, summertime barqouq, teen, and faqoos, autumn tufah and zaytoon, and winter khushkhash and laymoon make every season something to look forward to. Despite the seemingly endless display of fruits and vegetables to be found in the hisbeh, those with experience know how to lengthen the seasons by making preserves out of the fresh apricot, fig, and plum, and pickling olives and cucumbers for the rest of the year. Anyone who loves olives knows that there are nearly as many different recipes for preserving them as there are villages here.

Palestinian art and culture, too, go through seasons and are worth being preserved, in part to say to occupiers, past and present, that we are distinct; we have a unique cultural history and cannot be dismissed, and for future generations to know and understand their roots.

When El-Funoun Palestinian Dance Troupe was founded 30 years ago, there was an urgent need to record Palestinian cultural heritage before it was lost to the ethnic cleansing and bulldozing of villages that the Israeli occupation brought with it, and before it died away with older generations. El-Funoun’s archives comprehensively document many local variants of Palestinian folkloric dabkeh, while its public performances reinvigorate nearly lost dances and serve as a cultural preserve.

As El-Funoun’s performance in the opening ceremony of this year’s Palestine International Festival showed, the troupe has evolved its unique way of preserving traditional dance. “El-Funoun is taking Palestinian folkloric dance in a new artistic direction, reaching the world with our story,” said Khaled Qatamish, the troupe’s director. Images Remembered, El-Funoun’s most recent production, takes the traditional folkloric dabkeh and builds on it to create a dance form that combines the flavour of folkloric dance with contemporary movements to tell Palestinian stories. The choreography of Images Remembered is a collaborative effort between the volunteer dancers and the two paid staff of El-Funoun, all of whom are devoted to the troupe’s vision and artistic aspirations. Although the dancers’ background is rich with Palestinian dabkeh and folkloric tunes, they are often trained in other forms of dance as well. The product of this creative blend is magnificent, and the unmistakable stamp of Palestinian folklore shows up in all the sequences.

These ingredients combine to make Images Remembered a journey that is creatively and professionally performed. It also shows that although cultural preservation, like olives, can be packaged in more than one way, it always results in a beautiful, tasteful, and memorable performance.

Basil Ayish dabbles in culture but leaves the creative work to those with real talent.

TWIP September 2009

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