Dancing in the dark: Badke at Shubbak

In a joyous reimagining of the traditional dance Dabke, ten performers brought their own experiences of living in Palestine to the stage

Even in darkness, the dance goes on. Stamping, whistling, hollering and hooting, the ten Palestinian dancers executing a subversion of the traditional Dabke dance gave it their everything over an hour of truly life-affirming performance.  

Dramaturg Hildegard De Vuyst, along with Belgian choreographers Koen Augustijnen and Rosalba Torres Guerrero, from les ballets C de la B, conceived of a piece that would adapt the Dabke dance – traditionally performed at weddings or other social occasions – to represent Palestine in an affirming way.

Together they cast ten Palestinian performers from markedly different backgrounds, including two from the Palestinian Circus School; three from Serreyet Ramallah Dance Company; and three that are completely self-taught – two are from a refugee camp near Nablus and one is a Palestinian kickboxing champion.

The end result was a wildly diverse group of dancers, some of them schooled more traditionally, others less structured, but with a plethora of acrobatic tricks. Over the course of an hour, dancers showcased their individual skills, as well as teaming up with partners and in an entire group. One female dancer grooved to the beat of her own headphones, the tinny music just about audible to the audience.

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Dancers performed part of the show in darkness to reference the power outages in the regionImage: Danny Willems/Shubbak Festival

Another couple played out the entirety of a relationship over five minutes, the push-pull of their interactions both affectionate and tumultuous. A male dancer broke into an overtly feminine sequence, drawing laughter from the audience, whilst another dancer remained trapped in his own personal turmoil, pointing his finger to his head like a gun and falling to the floor. These hyper-reactions juxtaposed with moments of relaxation, where one or two dancers would retreat to the ‘water-cooler’ at the back of the stage to talk quietly.

De Vuyst, who spoke to the audience after the show, said that the layers of violence and high emotion juxtaposed with normalcy was representative of the dancers’ own experiences. She added that the variation was also a nod to the range of people living in Palestine.

“Part of the layers in the piece comes naturally with the performers. Yes, there are Palestinians with light skin, blue eyes, dark skin – they come in all shapes and sizes! We chose a very diverse group of people coming from different economic and social backgrounds having different realities and backgrounds in dance and theatre. But throughout, the basis is the Dabke – the dance that everyone shares.”

De Vuyst added that, apart from the first phrase, that all other sequences originated from the dancers and thereby contained their own experiences. There is a sequence whereby the stage is pitch-black, where the only sounds are those coming from the stamping of dancers’ feet. Referencing the frequent power outages in Palestine, the continuousness of the troupe’s movement illustrates how they will not be silenced – even with the lights off.