ZviDance’s ‘Dabke’ evokes melding of Arab and Israeli cultures


From left, Kuan Hui Chew, Chelsea Ainsworth, Samantha Harvey and Nicole Marie Smith in Zvi Gotheiner’s “Dabke.” (Jacqueline Chambord)
May 5, 2013

Choreographer Zvi Gotheiner has no way to tell the Syrian singer Ali al-Deek how well his music went over in Washington this weekend. Hopefully he is still alive, and safe. For now, Deek’s Arabic folk-pop, artfully woven into the soundtrack for a dance work called “Dabke,” speaks for the singer, its mere inclusion serving as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Gotheiner began working on “Dabke” during the summer of 2011, when there were protests in Syria but not a civil war. The Israeli-born choreographer wanted to make a dance about the melding of Arab and Israeli cultures, probing commonalities and tensions. Gotheiner ended up with a haunting hour that’s become darker than he intended. The movement hasn’t changed since the piece premiered in New York a year ago, but the news reports have gotten much more grim.

ZviDance, Gotheiner’s company, performed “Dabke” on Saturday and Sunday at American Dance Institute in Rockville. The piece opens with a male dancer, alone, on a dimly lit stage, quietly crossing one foot in front of the other. He adds a demi-plie for one knee and several more side-steps, and pounds one foot three times. Other dancers join in, and a folk dance is born. It’s called the “dabke” in Arabic, meaning “stomping of feet,” and “debka” in Hebrew. When the music starts, Tyner Dumortier breaks loose from the line dance and comes flying at the audience. He lands in a squat, stretches one sinewy leg forward and holds the position as though he’s the cape-less crusader of folk-dance fusion.

Bam. Pow. Here we go. Perhaps these eight dancers have just come from a celebration — a wedding, maybe. Now they’re the fiercest clubbers in Tel Aviv, the dabke rhythms fresh in their feet. Frenetic ensemble dances alternate with come-hither solos and side-by-side couplings. One pair smile shyly, then sneak off together. As the dance progresses, the movement loses its innocence. At one point, two couples lie on the floor, shaking, as each guy presses a heel into a woman’s crotch.

All the men resemble young soldiers, and after one gut-twisting solo, Robert M. Valdez Jr. solemnly strips off his shirt and brandishes it at the crowd. It’s drenched in sweat, but it’s easy to imagine blood. More dancers, male and female, follow his lead. The piece ends in darkened silence; the soft padding of dance steps has been replaced by the sound of a solo dancer breathing heavily, circling the stage as she runs from an enemy no one can see.

Alison Clancy and Buddy Valdez in Zvi Gotheiner’s “Coupling.” (Jacqueline Chambord)

Ritzel is a freelance writer.

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