Amal – Interview with choreographer Medhat Aldaabal
February 2016 marked the start of a weekly dance workshop for unaccompanied minors from Syria led by Syrian dancers and dancers of the Sasha Waltz & Guests company. It was part of the company’s platform “ZUHÖREN – a third space for art and politics”. The piece originated there: Drawing on the ideas of Medhat Aldaabal, together with Davide Camplani, five dancers developed Amal. Both dancers and choreographers, use all means of contemporary dance to depict the trying state of being “in-between”: the process of adjusting to life in a new society.
You state that “Amal” is about being in-between which newcomers often experience when arriving in a new society. How will you translate this experience to the audience?
The moment we arrived here something started to change in our personality and we tried to figure out this change. We arrived at a point to say: The Journey to come here wasn’t easy and the only thing which let us arrive was hope. Because we had hope that we would arrive at a safe city and continue our dream and our dance, our work. And that is what happened in Berlin. We want to show the people: Don’t give up any kind of dream or hope because as long as you keep dreaming and hoping that there is something good to happen and you work for it, it will happen. So we tried to transfer this by our movements and through our personal stories. Each one: Moufak, Firas, Fadi, Nima and me. And we tried also to bring our culture with us and mix it with the new things which we started to learn here.
You speak about the hope when arriving but the announcement text is connotated in a more negative way: Here you speak about fears, inner conflict. Yet “Amal” or its translation “Hope” is much more positive. So will we see a positive ending or a positive vibe in the piece?
Yes, I can understand that in the text, there are some things which are uncomfortable or things which will make you feel sad. But the point is to show that no matter what happened to you, there is hope for a new start and you really can make it. You can walk the street and you can arrive and feel safe. Of course the work is not only about sharing or transferring to the audience what we had before, but we try to show what we will face in the future, what we are now. So we try to send the message that hope is really something positive.
The topic was super heavy, we couldn’t really start from the present and continue to the future. We were forced to start from the past just to make the story realistic. You start somewhere and you continue to arrive, this is the realistic line. But it is showing that no matter what happened if you keep together, if you support each other, if you keep motivating each other and you have all this hope inside you and this magic power, you reach your goal no matter what or where.
Photo: Eva Radünzel
In “Amal”, Hope is depicted by the boy Nima. Is he the focus point of the piece?
Not really, because we focus on each one of us. The boy, Nima, has such a great energy and such a nice history. His mom is from Iran, his father from France, he grew up in Germany, he speaks those three languages, he knows those three cultures and he has such a beautiful energy. When we see him we really smile. So to put some focus on Nima as our hope, was such a great idea from Davide. So yeah Nima has some focus but each one of us has at the same time some focus. Let’s say he is the joint through whom you move from part to part.
When providing information to „Amal“ you send a short lyrical text which goes with the piece and which will be handed to the audience. How important is the text when we are looking at a piece that is about movement and music?
When I wrote this text I was thinking about Syria a lot. I think my feelings now start to change. But while you read the text and see the show you will directly connect it with your personal story. Each one has a personal story, each one has something happening in his or her life. Maybe you fled, but it isn’t important, you will be this person in the street. Each one can think about his or her own story or has his or her own interpretation and adapts it.
They can just see that if one of these dancers lost his best friend because he got killed in front of him and he left to Berlin and is walking here for one year or three month or whatever the time. And he starts a new life and he found a flat and friends and learns the language and starts to integrate and starts to dance on stage. This energy helped a lot. And in one or two years, it can take a lot of time, but with this kind of energy, this kind of motivation you can really shorten the time.
Photo: Eva Radünzel
You work very closely with SWG and “Amal” is one of the outcomes of the “Zuhören”-Reihe. Moreover you perform kids’ workshops, as well as your Dabke workshop for all ages. What is special about the work with the compagnie and Davide in particular?
This is such an honor for us because to work with Sasha Waltz, you are learning from 25 years of experience. So all the experience you are facing, you are learning a lot from it. Sometimes it is a lot and you can’t handle it and it takes time to understand the progress.
We learned that you can work with a choreographer even if you are 100 dancers and you can still go deep and you can also still take your space and put your ideas or your magic touch to the work. This we missed in Syria before. We worked in a way where you come, you revise the movement and you go. That’s it. But here I saw that there is so much space for the dancers. You really have time to create something and you have to be creative. With those amazing people, amazing dancers you have a different energy.
We have a saying in arabic: If you stay with people for 40 days, you become like them. In a sense that you will be one of them. At the same level. So we stayed here and we were with those people for more than three years. So I feel like, we can be – as Amal-dancers – at the same level somehow. Even with the way we think, with the opening of the mind, the way we move. It’s just a matter of time to learn more and more and to give the muscles memories.
Davide was a super great help for us, like he is not only the eyes from the outside, the co-director, he is also our teacher. So we learn a lot and we are so happy to have those people next to us.
Would you like to add or sum up anything?
This work is mixing the oriental culture and the western culture or we try to make it do this and adapt it more and more. I think it is good for people who have this idea about newcomers or refugees that we could be also humans or artists or doctors and engineers. We are not just poor people who run away from their country.
They did already open up to us. Not to us as a group of dancers but to us as newcomers and they look at us in a different way and they start to ask different questions. Not how we came here or where my family is, where am I living and from where I have clothes or whatever. They start to ask more about our personality which is what we need. What we really want is that people are looking at us as human beings and not that they will have a problem with me because I have dark hair. This we face a lot. But through art, through Dabke, through dance we break the borders between us and this is what we achieved somehow.