DABKE: the human experience

DABKE: the human experience

Folk dances can be found in countless areas around the world.  They are used as a way to build community, create a national identity, and reflect the life of a group of people.

When the state of Israel was founded in 1948, the Jewish community needed to create and establish a national identity. They did this, in part, by taking elements of Arab culture and transforming them into a new expression of their community and heritage identified with the new state.

The dabkeh–an Arab folk dance common all across the Middle East–was used to help connect Israel to the land and to an ancient past.

This folk dance combines circle and line dancing, stomping and rhythmic footwork. Usually performed in a line that circles counter-clockwise, any number of dabkeh dances found in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere are led by a dancer who can choose which way to face and what pathway to take. Each of these dance variations can be performed in celebration, at weddings, or during other joyous occasions.

No matter the country of origin, where the dance is performed, whether it is done by men only or a combination of men and women, the dabkeh dance stands as a representation of strength, power, and vigor.

Zvi Gotheiner, a New York-based Israeli choreographer, is known for immersing his audiences, as he says, “into the depth of the human experience.” His evening-length work DABKE, originally set on his own company, ZviDance, will be presented by Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) on April 6, 7, and 8, 2017 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center as the closing offering of RDT’s 51st season. Recognized by the New York Times as one of Alastair Macaulay’s TOP TEN DANCE FAVORITES OF 2013-14, DABKE is RDT’s opportunity to explore dabke and to discuss, discover, and explore what makes it so unique.

Using YouTube clips of the dabkeh as movement springboards, as well as his experience dancing the dabkeh growing up, Gotheiner, along-time collaborator with RDT, has created a contemporary dance work that explores elements of community, land, ego, identity, and internal/external conflict.

DABKE blends Middle Eastern folk dance and Arab pop music with contemporary dance vocabulary to highlight tribal and national identities … as well as to dissolve those definitions.

Gotheiner takes this folk dance and uses it as a metaphor for political conflicts, personal struggles, and community celebrations. Despite DABKE’s connection to a particular time and place, Gotheiner does not think his evening-length work should be seen only in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the recent upheavals across the Middle East of the Arab Spring in 2011.

Rather, the 50-minute work aims to break down the distinctions and representations that are so deeply connected to the dabkeh dance and replace them with a blended point-of-view and new cultural expression. In this way, the dancers themselves become part of a new world order–a community that doesn’t base their experiences on land, ownership, or power but on personal experience and expression.

Throughout the piece, dancers build connections with each other, break those connections, and shift between different styles, movement and people. Blending elements of the traditional dabkeh with contemporary dance, the dancers create a new movement language that they begin to learn as the piece progresses.

So what makes Gotheiner’s DABKE unique? Gradute student Janet Schroeder who has written at length about the work states, “The piece as a whole is fractured and fragmented, much like the relationships between Israelis, Palestinians, and other Arab neighbors. Dabke shifts from group to solo to duet, alternates between Arabic pop music and electronic music composed by Scott Killian specifically for this piece, and blends folk and contemporary dance.

“Though these divergences could feel disjointed, they lend a sense of wholeness to the piece. Using strategies of postmodern dance, this fragmentation in Dabke mirrors the complexity of the world, and it also reveals the violence inherent in such a fractured reality.”

RDT, the first company outside of ZviDance to be licensed to re-stage the work in its entirety, will explore the meanings, influences, and experience of Gothenier’s DABKE in coming posts. In particular, we will talk with the dancers about their own personal experiences learning and performing DABKE.

Be sure to get your tickets for this show soon! It’s an evening of dance you won’t want to miss.

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