Let’s talk about Palestine, giving the podium to an artist who lives in occupied Palestine. He’s Maher Shawamreh, a dance teacher and director of the school of art in Ramallah. In the interview with us he explains how dance communicates peace by extending the soul, and in this way reaching beyond the walls built by intolerance and war.
He speaks of his love for the arts he teaches daily with the support of his colleagues the Orient & Dance Theatre. His students are children and teenagers. Communication takes place through the vibrations of the body and music. Maher, a man who grew up in a state of siege, managed to create in this modern era the ability to dissolve words and bring peace to life on the stage with the ability to unite different cultures and languages.
As a teacher and highly developed artist he has been allowed in recent years to get a foothold in the West through his shows, and can boast of collaborations with artists from various countries. His ability to draw comparisons and to make use of the arts has enabled him to continually outdo himself regarding technique, using bodily communication to convey freedom to the audiences.
When did you start your engagement with dance and what made you realize that was your life’s path?
As a young man I studied electrical engineering. My career in contemporary dance officially started in 1996. In 1999 I started to do some shows in various regions of Palestine and other countries. I supported myself by working in the workshops. A few years later I started doing more ambitious interpretations, supported by works by works of artists at the high level of Mahmoud Darwish and Ghassan Kanafani. Then I became definitely aware that I could no longer escape or be distracted from dance. It had taken hold of my life and filled my thoughts. To make it clearer, let me explain that dancing is not life itself, but it is my journey in search of my identity. Through dance I became part of the universe and came into contact with God (Allah). Nowadays I realized that dance is a cure, a miracle drug.
Why in human history have artists proven the most valuable ambassadors of peace?
Humans communicate with each other in different languages, in French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish … it is our job to understand each other to the end and apply outselves to the search for different semantic content. Art is a universal language and does not need a specific grammar to be understood. Dance is body language. Awakening sensations and vibrations, dance merges nature and soul. In this way it establishes a communication with the spirit, moved by Allah. At that point you realize that God loves you and through that message you find your inner peace. At the moment in which a body dances, Allah puts the universe in motion. Creating transforms itself into a movement, giving life to a permanent dance. The dance and music give rise to immortality for those who interpret it as well as for those who observe them.
How would you imagine a dance show with Western artists and Palestinians? What music would you choose?
As I mentioned before, dance is the extension of the word of Allah through the body and produces our sensations. We can share this in all the languages of the world. By listening passively, we can touch our souls. We can reflect on ourselves dancing without feeling any fear. Also, dance allows us to simultaneously share different cultures and languages. That’s what I try to convey through my art. I love to dance with live music, moving not only my body but also my soul. The audience that watches my dance convinces me that dance has no boundaries. In fact, it includes the land, the olive trees, the eagle, the rocks, the sea … an elderly woman. It would be necessary to express ourselves freely in the central square of a market to overcome our own personal inner deficiencies through artistic expression. That’s my art expressed in words.
With what secret did you help your students overcome their fear of failing?
My students should be content with themselves and erase everything from their concious thoughts when they dance. Only in this way will they eliminate tensions. I learned to separate from my stress, fleeing far away. When I enter the room and see the first student, all my feelings become positive. And I exist only in that single moment. Through dance, the rage that is intrisic to human beings tends to lose itself in the movements, finally managing to completely dissolve. Dance is capable of creating tolerance. Dancing is like escape for the soul from life and from the world around us.
Have you ever been afraid that one of your students could be taken away by Israeli soldiers?
No, we are not afraid, we were born under occupation.
Here it is possible to read the original version, English Translation by John Catalinotto.