Since 2006, the Royal Flemish Theatre (KVS), together with les ballets C de la B and the Plek vzw (non-profit association), has been carefully elaborating a process in the Occupied Territories based on artistic exchanges with a new generation of Palestinian performing artists. In the intervening years, the project has passed through various stages: exploration and formulation of PASS in 2006, two long workshops in Birzeit (West Bank) in August 2007 and May 2008, and a visit to Belgium by 5 ‘artistic tourists’ in the second half of 2008.
Palestine has no training programme in theatre or dance. The existing theatre and dance companies are NGOs that depend for their financing on foreign donors and their agendas. Art is expected, for the most part, to serve politics. And yet there is enormous need for autonomous expression, witness the explosion in contemporary film and video production. The aim of PASS is to offer individual performing artists the instruments with which to achieve autonomous creations. PASS opens up artistic horizons for beginner ‘theatre makers’ by means of long multidisciplinary workshops that combine dance and theatre. Participants are young artists from all backgrounds, be they writers, dramaturgists, directors, choreographers, actors, dancers or designers, who have the potential to become the engines of ‘performance’.
PASS is a collaborative relationship between the aforementioned Belgian organisations and the Qattan Foundation in Ramallah. Coordination is provided by the KVS’s dramaturgist Hildegard De Vuyst, who works closely with Mahmoud Abu Hashhash, head of the Culture and Arts department of the Qattan Foundation, and the Palestinian mentor of the project, François Abu Salem, former artistic director of El Hakawati.
2007 >> PASS / Part I
For the first workshop (PASS/Part I), which was held in a former girls’ boarding school in the middle of the town of Birzeit on the West Bank of the Jordan River, participants were selected on the basis of a questionnaire distributed by the Qattan Foundation. Some fifty candidates filled in the questionnaire and were subsequently invited for an interview. A total of 15 applicants were chosen at the interview stage. They came from various parts of Palestine, from Jenin to Bethlehem, from Um Al Fahem (IL) to Nablus, and from various social and artistic backgrounds. Their experiences in the performing arts varied from semi-professional (El Funoun, the Palestinian Circus), to amateur to neophyte. This diversity was regarded by all those involved as a great asset. Hopefully in future the event will be reinforced by participants from Gaza as well.
PASS/Part I ran for a period of 3 weeks. The first week was devoted to acting and text (Bart Danckaert and Joris Van den Brande of the Plek vzw), the second week to dance and movement (with Koen Augustijnen and Rosalba Torres Guerrero of Les Ballets C de la B) and the third week mainly to the participants’ own projects (with Bart Danckaert, Hildegard De Vuyst and François Abu Salem). The text taken as a starting point was the first 3 scenes of ‘Combat de nègre et de chiens’ [‘Black battles with dogs’] by Bernard-Marie Koltès, translated into Arabic by François Abu Salem. In the course of the third, ‘individual’ week, participants were urged to draw upon the achievements and materials from the first two weeks. From this first workshop, 8 participants were selected to continue to the next step.
2008 >> PASS / Part II
PASS/Part II took place over 2 weeks at the end of April/beginning of May 2008, with the dancer-choreographers Tarek Halaby, Hildegard De Vuyst and François Abu Salem. Halaby is a Palestinian American, a graduate of PARTS, who now lives in Belgium and works with the dance workshop WP Zimmer. New participants were invited (including three women) to join the artists selected from Part I. The starting point this time was the first 4 chapters of a prose work by Mahmoud Abu Hashhash, written in Arabic but also available in French translation as “Ramallah mon Amour”. With their own choice of text fragments, each of the participants composed his or her own character/story, and then proceeded to replace the text by movement, culminating in a dance solo with ‘the same’ content.
2008 >> "ARTISTIC TOURISTS" >> PASS / Part III
In autumn 2008, the French Community of Belgium organised a Palestinian season in Brussels and Wallonia under the title ‘Masarat’. Fabienne Verstraeten, the coordinator, put together a programme of film and video, fine arts, literature and architecture. The performing arts were not well represented on the programme (apart from a solo by François Abu Salem), but Masarat was prepared to contribute to investing in the process that a number of young performing artists were engaged in through PASS. The participants certainly stand only to gain from exposure to artistic practices and impulses outside Palestine. The artistic climate under the Israeli occupation is one of isolation and of a deep need – political as much as artistic – for Palestinian unity. Therefore Masarat invited five participants from PASS/PART II to come to Brussels as ‘artistic tourists’: Maher Shawamreh, Ahmad Tubassi, Muhammad Haj Daoud, Zeena Zarour and Adham Nu’man.
The KVS played host to the young Palestinians, while coordinator De Vuyst put together a month-long programme of workshops, internships, performances and discussions.
PASS/PART III also included a collective workshop with director-choreographer Isabella Soupart (thanks to Les Halles de Schaerbeek), which worked with the artistic tourists using film fragments as the basis.
2009 >> IN THE PARK
In the summer of 2009, a four-week workshop took place with Koen Augustijnen, Rosalba Torres Guerrero and Hildegard De Vuyst in Birzeit (Palestine). The focus was on dance and movement. For the first time, the 10 participants (both returning members and new candidates) have been preparing a closing performance. For contact with an audience, the experience of performing and touring are important aspects of the thought world of the performing artist.
In 4 weeks they knocked together the play In the Park:
Click here for the long version (10 min.) of this video.
2010 >> ...
In the February issue of the KVS Express, Hildegard De Vuyst outlines five years of work in Palestine through a number of notable moments.
>> read the full article (pdf)
Looking ahead to 2010, contacts have been made with the French playwright of Algerian origin, Mohamed Kacimi. He knows the region like the back of his hand (see his ‘Terre Sainte’ [‘Holy Land’]) and enjoys writing along with the actors in the course of the rehearsal process. These 4 weeks will therefore focus primarily on text and acting.
... >> PASS in BELGIË
In due course, these workshops are intended to evolve into joint productions between Palestinian and Belgian partners. The first proposals of this nature have been sketched out with Bart Danckaert and Joris Vandenbrande, who are keen to involve young North Africans in Brussels in this production. They are struck by how the keffiah, or Palestinian scarf, is a symbol of resistance that Arab youths in Brussels have eagerly adopted as their own. The production will deal with representation and symbolism, and with Palestine as myth versus the reality lived by Palestinians today. Plans for other productions (including with Amir Nizar Zuabi) are also on the wish list.
Join the ZAP MAMA CHOIR!
Here you'll find all information about the World Music Choir of Brussels, led by Marie Daulne.
DOMO DE EUROPA HISTORIO EN EKZILO reopens in September!
On the 4th December a debate took place in KVS on repertoire in theatre, with guest speakers Guy Cassiers, Faustin Linyekula and Amir Nizar Zuabi. As an introduction Jan Goossens, artistic director of KVS, wrote the following text.