Dance From a Divided City: Elad Schechter, Rand Ziad Taha, and Hala Salem

Photo credit: Denis Martin

From a divided city, a rare moment of collaboration between Muslim and Jew: Last night, Tangente Danse presented Premiere, a work choreographed by Elad Schechter and performed by Rand Ziad Taha, two artists hailing from Jerusalem. Premiere opens with Taha placing various objects on the stage: an Arabic rosary, called a masbaha, a Polaroid camera, a Walkman, a cassette, an iPhone, and a microphone. All of the objects are used throughout the piece: she takes a selfie against the backdrop of the audience, leaving it to develop on the side of the stage until the end of the performance, when she gives it to an audience member; the cassette forms the soundtrack of the first part of the performance, amplified through the microphone, and at one point she calls her mother on the iPhone and has a conversation in Arabic. As for the masbaha, it forms the central part of the work: a recorded voice, presumably the dancer’s, explains in Arabic the significance of the masbaha, and what it means to her. The monologue is translated into English via an electronic sign at the back of the stage.

Rand Ziad Taha in Premiere. Photo credit: Denis Martin

The dance has a childlike quality to it, as if we are watching someone going about their daily life, taking selfies, talking to mom, skipping and jumping and playing. But through it all runs a deeper vein, represented by the masbaha and the dance movements it inspires. Fingers moving one against another, as if through the masbaha’s beads, arabesques, and a certain groundedness in the movement all serve to anchor the childlike play within a broader cultural context, providing a sense of security that is at once specific and universal.

In the second piece, Parallel, Taha teams up with fellow choreographer and dancer Hala Salem to explore themes of mental, emotional, and social violence against women. Profound, moving, and disturbing, Parallel reveals with great sensitivity the common experience not just of the two women onstage, but, it seems, women everywhere. The audience members are turned into voyeurs as the young women play and laugh. We are constantly aware of how easily their portrayed innocence can be destroyed, and we are also shown ultimately how it feels to be robbed of that innocence.

Hala Salem. Photo credit: Denis Martin.

The work opens with Salem lying on her back breathing in and out of a plastic bag she holds to her mouth, while Taha makes mud in a silver platter from sand and water. The discomfort elicited by watching Salem try to breathe is offset by Taha playing with the mud, although that, in its own way, is also uncomfortable. Eventually the two begin walking, supporting each other, holding each other up, keeping each other alive. Audible breathing and gasping is a recurring feature. So is the dirt they rub on each other. At a certain point Taha tries to rub the dirt off of her limbs, twitching and nervous. This turns into an extremely moving solo that captures perfectly the indelible and unbearable after-effects of sexual assault. Salem, in her turn, reacts to her friend’s breakdown with an equally effective portrayal of shock and horror.

Premiere and Parallel play at Espace Vert at Edifice Wilder, 1435 rue de Bleury Friday 18 October and Saturday 19 October at 7:30pm, and Sunday 20 October at 4pm. Tickets here: https://tangentedanse.ca/en/event/schechter/

also of interest