On Saturday the 24th at Rich Mix, two dabke groups, El Funoun and Hawiyya, one from Ramallah and one from London, joined forces to produce Curfew, mixing traditional dabke movemens with contemporary dance in a show revolving around the Palestinian experimence of the newscycle, the way the news is both flickering social media feeds and newspapers and radio and also a force that shapes daily life, from curfews to checkpoints to the lates twists in the many current Arab crises.
Before the performance, the organisers mentioned Rim Banna’s passing, a reminder of the impact her songs have had, and from there, of the importance of the arts to the Palestinian story and struggle.
The performance started with two couples in an entrancing predator dance while in the corner several of the dancers read newspapers with a tower of newspaper boxes behind them. The music alternated between haunting flutes to quicker modified dabke beats to news snippets familiar to any Arab, ranging from bits from Aljazeera to the golden age of radio, the tolling bell followed by the phrase ”hunna London” or here is London.
The dancers were always reacting, by turns confused, panicked or mourning — and sometimes overtaken by feet-stomping martial movements as though the fervor of these movements was beyond their control. There was one moment for example when one dancer looked at another, shrugged and then proceeded with more vigor. At another point, the dancers circled around one another, their movements jolting and mechanical like those of clockwork figures.
Some of the dancing was similar to Badke, including the head movements and the sense of being controllers by some outside confusing force.
The theme of control remained a theme throughout, moset directly represented when one dancer positioned the others, either by correcting their positions or, at another point, carrying them around the stage and putting them down while they remained frozen. And then, from this puppet like positioning, the dancers exploded into full on dabke, getting the audience clapping and ululating.
There was a question about this part later, when a questioner asked whether Palestinian audiences embrace the more abstract elements contemporary added to Dabke…or think it is being diluted. The questioner then confessed to being unsure himself, wanting to embrace the art but also feeling like he didn’t know everything it meant, and enjoying the more familiar dabke more. One of the dancers from Funoun explained that the dabke troupe does traditional dabke, folkloric dabke, but that this has its limits. He explained that the movement of pure dabke was like reaching out to give the audience a hug, letting them enjoy themselves a bit, but that he also wanted to convey a message and to invite the audience to think and reflect.
The end of the show should remain a surprise — but it does effectively turn the mirror to the audience and ask them to consider their part in the consumption of news, the endless scrolling past headlines that do not effect many of us in any meaningful way.