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Yasmin Katamish, dancer

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 23.06.2007:

Yasmin: A Luring Fragrance of Palestinian Dance

It was not easy for her to reach the top, despite her natural talent and charismatic stage presence. After many years in Bara’em, the youth branch of El-Funoun dance troupe, Yasmin (Arabic for “jasmine”) joined El-Funoun, where she had to establish her credentials in the midst of competition with the group’s most brilliant female dancers. From the start, she harboured a soaring ambition, a dream of one day becoming the enchanting dancer that she was meant to be.

Yasmin Katamish, who is shy by nature, joined Bara’em when she was seven. Once on stage, she was transformed into another creature, feeling as though she were floating freely; and she enjoyed every second of it. At a young age, Yasmin mastered the ability to recreate herself on stage, setting aside all her anxiety to become a self-confident, alluring performer who moved as though she owned the stage.

Not long after joining El-Funoun, she was selected for a relatively bold love duet involving full contact. During rehearsals, she invariably blushed, often losing the music. But with her typical persistence and inexorable motivation, she eventually not only succeeded in learning the role but also managed to endow it with her own magic. Building on this success, Yasmin was later chosen to pair with a more experienced male dancer in an important role in El-Funoun’s grand production, Haifa, Beirut and Beyond. The role was short, but it was enough to demonstrate, again, her distinctive flare.

When people first see her, whether in Ramallah, Casablanca, or San Diego, they are initially impressed by her attractive looks and curly blonde hair. When they see her on stage, though, it is always her agility and striking aura that leave them in awe. Regardless, Yasmin never allows her inherent strengths to blind her to the need for further development. Realizing that her sense of musicality and rhythm lagged behind her evident talent, she was ready for a showdown to overcome that challenge; and her chance finally came during the demanding process of creating Li-Beirut (to Beirut), the first solo that was choreographed especially for her.

Li-Beirut became Yasmin’s artistic battlefield. The intricate orchestration of the music only added an intimidating level of complexity to the already difficult movement-learning and “ironing” processes. For days on end, Yasmin intently listened to the music while driving, eating, and even napping. She internalized it and only then managed to harmonize every movement phrase with its corresponding notes, while refining the required spirit for every segment of this trying dance.

In the first part of Li-Beirut, when she is covered by an oppressively huge, black fabric, Yasmin has to literally fight to expand her space of freedom under this choking tent. She kicks and punches; she is subdued at times, only to resume her resistance a moment later; and she does it all with finesse, passion, and sparkling musicality. Instead of imagining Beirut’s own oppression, which this part is supposed to reflect, Yasmin actually has a flashback of her own real struggle with being overprotected and dependent in her childhood. Her expression of sublime elation, when she finally dispenses with the fabric covering her, is therefore authentic, never staged. And it shows! When Li-Beirut was debuted during El-Funoun’s recent US Tour, Yasmin invited an astounding storm of applause that brought some warm tears of joy to her pretty eyes … and to many others.

But glamour was not always what interested Yasmin, who is now a senior in English Literature at Birzeit University. Last year, she worked as a dabke trainer for young men in Assira al-Shamaliyya, a laid-back village near Nablus. It took courage, self-confidence and a professional commitment to dance in order for Yasmin to succeed in that project. And she did. Her overcrowded class of young men soon looked at her as a talented dance teacher, rather than as a “pretty girl.” She felt she was on a mission to spread the gospel of Palestinian dance – to take it back to its roots – to marginalized villages plagued by colonial oppression and a suffocating siege that has all but extinguished their traditional, joyful feasts. In Assira, just as in all El-Funoun performances, Yasmin spreads her fragrant art to keep alive the dream of living in peace and freedom.

By Omar Barghouti


This Week in Palestine

June 2007

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