Palestinian company El-Funoun continues to dance despite Israeli occupation.
El-Funoun in performance. Photo by Mouhammad Turokman, Courtesy El-Funoun.
Against all odds, one dance company has survived and thrived in the occupied Palestinian Territories for 35 years. Despite being located in the Ramallah district in the West Bank, El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe recently celebrated the anniversary by inviting 25 alumni to join its 30 dancers and 45 youth group members for a performance. This month the company premieres a new production for their youth troupe at the Ramallah Cultural Palace.
El-Funoun’s years of success have not come without incessant struggle. The company performs in Palestine and neighboring Arab countries, nurturing dance groups that have sprouted up in villages, refugee camps and youth clubs. Under the Israeli occupation, however, mobility is increasingly limited. Checkpoints and bypass roads make what should be a 30-minute drive to Bethlehem take at least three hours. Access to water and electricity is also unpredictable. “Life under occupation is difficult,” admits Noora Baker, a former El-Funoun dancer who now heads the troupe’s training and production. “Yet with that difficulty comes challenge and resistance for us. El-Funoun is a collective, believing in humanity and justice, striving to set a good role model in its society.”
Many of the dancers have traumatic stories of living under occupation. As a child, Baker witnessed her parents and sister being arrested, dragged out of the theater and kicked by soldiers. They were there during a peaceful demonstration performance—according to Baker, protest against the occupation is forbidden. Then, the theater was tear gassed, blotting out the rest of her memory of the incident.
Such stories only strengthen dancers’ resolve to spread their art and make an impact on their community. When El-Funoun was founded it was an all-male troupe, but in 1981 women joined, breaking the cultural taboo of both genders performing together in public. The company’s choreography was originally based on the dabke, the stomping, skipping folk dance that is a cherished part of Palestinian identity. “They chose dabke as a means for resistance to the occupation,” says Baker. While still inspired by dabke, it has since evolved to include contemporary choreography, work by guest artists and experiments in new media. The company also helped establish Popular Art Centre in 1987, which offers classes in dabke, modern, ballet, salsa and jazz and hosts the Palestine International Festival for Dance and Music. And in a gesture of solidarity with its brothers under siege, proceeds from one of this season’s performances will go toward supporting a youth group in Gaza.
New York choreographer Yoshiko Chuma, who has collaborated with the company, said, “Eighty percent of their lives is tragedy and 20 percent is happiness. Their work is based on the happiness. When people from El-Funoun told me their family’s history, I had so much emotion to cry, but they do not cry. That is their strength.”
Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.
Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.
Hive by Boston Conservatory student Alyssa Markowitz. Photo by Jim Coleman
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Fox produced a live broadcast of Rent in January—but could an original musical be next? Photo by Kevin Estrada, Courtesy Fox
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
Last year's winner: Manuel Vignoulle's EARTH. Jack Hartin Photography, Courtesy McCallum Theatre
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
When you're a foreigndancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
Still of Fonteyn from the 1972 film I Am a Dancer. Photo courtesy DM Archives
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.