Green Cards and Mint Fields: Cultures in Conflict
By Nigel Thorpe.
Against a giant back-cloth painted with a typical Palestine village scene,
the Salma Dancing Group told a moving story in dance and drama of people caught between conflicting cultures.
Often funny, but always profound, the words of script writer Victor Qamar added greatly to the power of the show’s music and dance. Words, dance and music blended together to tell the story of émigrés and the tearful families they leave behind.
As numerous and multicolored as the layers of sand in a Petra sand bottle, the group’s dances and dramatic acts followed each other in quick succession to the delight of the mainly Palestinian audience. The perfect stage management, under the direction of Moh’d Ali Taha, allowed the dancers and actors to slip unseen onto and off the stage under a brief cloak of darkness. The audience scarcely had time to take a breath as dances and actors sprung, one after another, into spot-lit life on the stage.
The story woven by dance and drama tells of the difficulties of life in Palestine under the ever watchful eye of “our cousins“. With few chances of employment, and the humiliation of constant security checks, the story’s main character decides to leave Palestine and study to be a doctor in America. Much to the dismay of his family, he leaves for the States and then, years later, returns to his home land with an American wife and son. The casual dress, and the foreign informal manners of his wife, infuriate his traditional family. Unable to tolerate her in-laws hostility and the simple village life-style, the doctor’s wife returns with their son to America.
Her husband, wishing to help his fellow Palestinians, establishes a clinic to treat the sick in his home village. His emotions become confused when he learns that his childhood sweetheart has married another man in the village and that his wife has a boy friend in America. There soon comes the time when, torn between cultures, and missing his son, he returns to America. To sad farewells, he leaves his homeland Palestine to return to America. As the story tells, he was not the first ,and will certainly not be the last, to exchange the fragrant olive grooves and green mint fields of Palestine, for the American green card, “ easy life.”
Firyal Khshaiboun established the Salma Dancing Group in 1980 and she has been choreographing the dances, and designing their magnificent dance costumes, ever since. The male and female dancers wore different costumes for each dance, each style reinforced the story the dance or act had to tell.
The brilliant white dresses with red sequinned head and waist bands were followed first, by a stunning marbled kaleidoscope of vivid purples and green and then, by an autumnal mix of browns, light creams and gold. The exquisite costumes certainly displayed the rich cultural heritage of Palestine.
The American style T-shirts and mini-skirts in the dances which portrayed the American life style of the Palestinian doctor’s wife were, as intended, in stark contrast to the traditional dresses.
In one particularly moving dance, “Balbala”, the female dancers wore shinning white dresses with diaphanous butterfly wings trailing from their shoulders. As the memento speeded up from the slow opening strains of Rodrigo’s “Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra”, the dancers leapt and twirled faster and faster, their costume wings making them seem to fly across the stage. This dance, and many others, fulfilled the group’s feelings that the “ dancing can express both the beauty of Arabic and the problems of everyday life.”
Besides their previous appearances at numerous Jerash and other local festivals, the Salma Dancing Group have an visited many other countries including Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland.
“I was very happy with our performance tonight”, Firyal told Albawaba at the end of the show. “ We are only giving one performance, but we hope to be back next year.” Hopefully, the Salma Dancing Group will be making regular festival appearances at Jerash for many more years to come.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)