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Koreografen Arkadi Zaides ställer ut på The Center for the Humanities i New York City

2016-02-01

Koreografen Arkadi Zaides är på ständig världsturné. Nyligen deltog han i konferensen Bodies of Evidence – Conference i arrangemang av DOCH och Tensta Konsthall www.doch.se/aktuellt/kalender/bodies-of-evidence.
I början av februari ställer han ut på The James Gallery vid Center for the Humanities i New York. Utställningen varar till 10 februari och i den ingår bland annat föreställningen Archive, som en del av Live Ideas Festival på New York Live Arts.
Turnén går sedan vidare tillbaka till Europa, eller närmare bestämt Norge. Föreställningen Archiv ges på BIT Teatergarasjen i Bergen 2-3 mars och på Black Box Theater i Oslo 14-17 mars samtidigt som han ger en workshop på Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo-
I Danstidningen 4/2015 publicerades en artikel av Ninna Oom, ”Vi slåss genom dansen”, som bland annat handlade om Arkadi Zaides konst och på hans egen begäran publicerar vi texten igen på Danstidningens webbplats, men denna gång på engelska.

We fight through dance

It takes about an hour to go from Tmuna Theater in Tel Aviv to the Palestinian youth center in Shu’fat refugee camp in Jerusalem. At Tmuna Theater a seasoned cultural audience enjoys Archive, a dance performance by the Israeli choreographer Arkadi Zaides.
Most people from that audience would have trouble finding their way to Shu’fat refugee camp. This is where Ola Abu Taleb teaches dance to twenty girls twice a week. Although Arkadi and Ola differ in their approach, they both use dance as form of resistance, a powerful alternative to the persistent violence in the region.

Ola Abu Taleb is 29 years old and grew up in Shu’fat refugee camp. After work she volunteers at a youth center called Palestinian Child Center where she teaches a traditional Palestinian dance known as dabke. Self-taught, she spends the bulk of her time engaged in choreographing and teaching.

– As a child there was no one here who could teach me dance, this is something I want to give them, she says.

It was during my mission as an ecumenical accompanier that I first met Ola. The Ecumenical Accompaniment Program has been sending Swedes to the region since 2002 for periods of three months with the aim of supporting local non-violent peace initiatives. In addition, the mission is to serve as a nonpartisan presence that bolsters respect for international law in the region. My background as a dancer took me to Ola’s dance group. After discussing the training program with Ola, we decided that I would coach her students in ballet once a week.

– They need to learn to stretch their feet but above all it’s fun for them to try something new, says Ola.

The youth center is a small oasis situated in an otherwise dirty and messy refugee camp, where houses are cramped and garbage is heaped in big piles on the streets.
Young people can come here after school to do their homework, play an instrument, or practice dance.
 A high concrete wall, constructed by the Israeli government, separates the camp from the part of Jerusalem that is occupied by Israel. The only way of getting in and out, is at the checkpoint, where there are frequent clashes between Israeli soldiers and Shu’fat’s Palestinian population.
 One example I witnessed was an altercation that started with young Palestinian boys throwing stones at the soldiers.
The provocation escalated and finally the soldiers shot tear gas at the boys. They quickly ran away. This time, no one got injured. Sometimes that’s not the case. During my time as an accompanier we heard about two young boys that both got shot in their eye.

– Some people use stones, but we don’t. We fight through dance.

Ola says it so naturally so that what might seem like a rehearsed cliché becomes real conviction.
Through her hybrid choreographies, mixing dabke with singing and poetry, she lets young people illustrate their Palestinian history. Why do we live in a refugee camp? What happened when the West Bank was occupied by Israel? The dance becomes a means of expression that provides answers to these questions while preserving old Palestinian traditions.
Measured in kilometers, the actual distance to Tel Aviv is minimal. But with its trendy
restaurants, bars and idyllic beachfront, the city is a huge distance and contrast to the rundown refugee camp.
I go there on one of my days off and take the opportunity to see Arkadi Zaide’s renowned performance Archive.
The performance is simple. Zaides is alone onstage in front of a screen that displays videos from the archives of B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
The only thing he does is to repeat the Israeli soldiers’ and illegal settlers’ body movements seen on film. The experience is striking.

– I avoid exaggerating the gestures of the subjects on screen. To keep my methodology as objective as possible is crucial and might have a stronger impact, says Zaides in the audience discussion following the show.

Archive is a show with a clear political message, an overt criticism of the Israeli occupation. Zaides has just been warned that the support he gets from the state of Israel could be suspended, alarming evidence of the power and potential of dance as a form of nonviolent resistance.
After the public discussion I get a few minutes with the choreographer and ask how his performance is usually received.

– Often good, like tonight, where I play for an Israeli audience that is already critical of the occupation. But sometimes people have left their seats during the performance. I think it’s because they don’t like that I only show clips of how the occupying power behaves.

– Some think that I should show that the occupied people perform acts of violence as well, but I think they also find it difficult to admit to themselves that the Israeli assaults on the Palestinian population actually happens in such a large scale.

During my time in the region I experienced first hand the kind of violence Zaides depicts in his performance. But my meetings with him and Ola gave me hope for an alternative. Despite living so close to each other the two will probably never meet. They are hemmed in on either side of an ongoing regional conflict where violence is a reality of everyday life.
Nevertheless, they share the desire to not accept the status quo, to improve the situation their people live in. And somewhere in that desire to change, they meet – Ola and Zaides.
They want to resist. And they choose to do it through dance.


Arkadi Zaides is an Israeli choreographer and dancer. His performance Archive is touring to Italy, The Netherlands, Slovakia, France and Belgium in the autumn and possibly to Sweden in the future.

The Israel-Palestine conflict remains unresolved and concerns Israel, as well as the West Bank and Gaza that were occupied by Israel in 1967.
 Although the conflict is fundamentally about two people claiming their right to the same land, there are a number of issues remaining to be resolved. By building Israeli settlements on occupied land and a security barrier, mostly built on Palestinian land and not following the internationally recognized border the Green Line, Israel violates international humanitarian law. To attack civilians, as Hamas and other groups do towards Israel from Gaza, is also violating international humanitarian law.

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Program is managed by the World Council of Churches on the international level, and by the Swedish Christian Council in Sweden. The program aims at reducing violence by international protective presence, instilling hope that a peaceful solution is possible, promoting respect for international humanitarian law and extending the awareness of the consequences of the occupation for Israelis and Palestinians.

Ninna Oom

See www.arkadizaides.com/calendar/2016

See also btselem.org

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