«Qamar wa Sanabel», a palestinian musical
Marie MMina - 05/10/2009
The action of «Qamar wa Sanabel» takes place in the 1970’s in a Palestinian refugee camp where love stories, stories of resistance, arguments between neighbours and political confrontations are born. A benevolent meddlesome grandmother evolves among this restlessness. This engaging character gives the style of a popular fable to the performance. This musical tells the life story of a population which has been deprived of its country but who continues to dance.
Palestinians dance especially during weddings, like the one of Sanabel and Younès, the two young lovers of the performance. To go into more detail: it’s not exactly their wedding. The couple has celebrated their marriage in secret because the groom is pursued by Israel. During the wedding reception, where all the camp is invited, a friend of Younès plays the groom’s role.
The scriptwriter has borrowed this idea from a couple he knows who have managed to deceive the Israelis – and the whole village – for 17 years! The wife finally reveals the hoax to her neighbours only when her husband has been arrested and she couldn’t hide her sadness anymore.
On stage and in life, weddings are obviously provide the occasion for a dabkeh, the Palestinian folkloric dance. The performers dance all at once; while they bounce, they seem to draw their energy from the ground, on this ground that has been stolen from them and to which they remain attached.
The choreographer Mohammad Khatab Abu Ata, also director of the Wishah troupe, fostered the idea behind this performance for years.
In order to write the script, he has been greatly inspired by his own grandmother, especially by an outstanding moment that he shared with her when he was a young boy. One day, since it he had been asking her for a long time, she took him to visit her native village near Jerusalem. The Palestinian hamlet, situated on the hillside, had been destroyed during the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and a colony had already been constructed on top of the hill.
“We had started to climb up the hill, my grandmother was telling me where the school, the mosque, the houses were”, Mohammad Ata told Babelmed. “I couldn’t see anything. But after a moment, I understood that she was seeing everything in her mind”. The little boy was with his grandmother on the family ground when some children from the neighbouring colony started throwing stones at them. The old women then called at an adult who was close by. She recognised him immediately since he was an old Jewish neighbour, whose family lived in Palestine well before the creation of the Hebrew State. She therefore called him by his name.
-Do you know me? The man said surprisingly.
-Yes, I know you and I know your father. You should tell the children, to whom belongs this land, she begged him.
Decades after, Mohammed Ata still remembers the man’s silence: “He refused to answer.”
In the performance, this silence is transformed into a flow of words coming out from the grandmother talking to her old neighbour: “The moon which lights up these fields, you will see it every evening and every evening, the moon will tell you to whom belongs this ground.”
The old woman does not keep her sermons to Israelis. When the Palestinians of the camp tear each other apart – like what is still happening between the Fatah and the Hamas - she narrates the story of the peasant whose field is plagued by mice. In order to get rid of them, he places the rodents in a bag and he shakes the bag. Each animal then thinks that his fellow creature is the one attacking him.
If his grandmother inspired him, Mohammad Ata assures that he did not make an exact portrait of her character: “I talk of all those mothers and of all those grandmothers of Palestine.” How are they? “Tough and kind, generous and wise” at the same time.
The choreographer, who had co-funded El Funoun in 1979, one of the most respected Palestinian dabkeh troupes, created Wishah in 2003. His aim was to “put folklore on stage without it losing its unique character”. After the first performance called “Raqs”, he staged “Qamar wa Sanabel”. “This is a new experience for me. I dream of danced theatre. It gives much more space to express oneself and to tell one’s stories, one’s dreams…”
Translated from French by Elizabeth Grech