We met the troupe when its artists were rehearsing for their performance “Against A Hard Surface”, a couple of months ago in the newly-opened Birzeit Museum. The team gathered for more than 5 weeks to work on this new project and created high expectations for its premiere at the Festival.
YSDT was founded in 2005 in the United States and made a splash with projects involving all kinds of influences, such as hip-hop, ballet, or dabke (a Palestinian traditional dance) and even acrobatics.
Over the past decade, this arts company – registered as an NGO - produced more than 30 pieces. It went on four international tours on four continents. It also pursued its first goal: catering for underprivileged communities through artistic workshops and live performances.
One of the most famous initiatives they worked on is called SCENE, which stands for Scenario-based Composition to Engage, Nurture, and Empower. Artists from YSDT are engaging with communities that are non-dancers and that are usually not exposed to contemporary arts nor dance.
Through various activities, the audience is pushed to develop creative self-expression and encourage participants to think critically. SCENE workshops have been conducted within communities such as high school students, incarcerated minors, or refugee camps in Jordan.
This year, YSDT is launching a summer dance intensive workshop in Palestine. High-ranking professionals will offer theatre, circus and dance classes to adults and children, from beginners to fellow professional performers.
The woman behind this ambitious project is Samar Haddad King. The New York trained dancer comes from a Palestinian family and has been working on identities, notably in the Middle East, for more than a decade. In the United States, she was awarded one of the main prizes at the National Choreography Competition.
YSDT has a transnational approach because Haddad King felt that because conflicts are everywhere in the world, as well as fragmentation dynamics, it would be interesting to “find ways to move forward by mobilizing and connecting individuals and artists through creative projects”.
This kind of “melting pot” approach also reflects in the projects’ cast. For instance on Against a Hard Surface, performers come from all over: there are dancers from Japan and from the United States, as well as artists from all corners of Palestine. One of the two actors who joined the project is from the Golan Heights (Adeeb Safadi). Samaa Wakeem, an actor and dancer, is from the coastal city of Haifa. There are also dancers from Jordan, the West Bank, or East Jerusalem.
The piece is about survival and hope. It deals with long term effects of life under constraints – using the concept of wall (mental, social, physical) as a symbol of the barriers people impose on themselves, as well as those the occupation imposes on Palestinians. The idea is to look into how you can remain in a survival mode for a long time and how this will impact who you are and how you behave in your space. In the end, the performance manages to be as poetic as political, tackling harsh topics such as oppression tools but also more optimistic ones, like human resilience.