Having received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theatre from Columbia College Chicago, Dana Dajani, the Palestine actor setup base in Dubai. In an interview, she tells us why she decided to move to the Middle East.
Why did you choose the Emirates as your home?
My parents moved to the UAE while I was studying theatre in the United States. And because I believe that we in the Arab world are good at exporting potential – we go abroad to study and work because certain opportunities do not exist at home, and they never will unless we invest our time, resources and attention into developing our own communities – I decided to leave Chicago and return to the Middle East. I choose to be close to my family in Dubai, my roots in the Levant and also contribute my talent and passion to my home, a region that needs al the active hands, hearts and minds it can hold!
Does the vibe of a city affect you? How?
I definitely draw inspiration from being on the road. Seeing a different world- each city has its own vibe and feel. I love to learn about language and the folklore of the cultures I cross paths with, continuously making connections in our ever growing common ground. The world is getting smaller and smaller.
How is the creative scene now in the Emirates?
Something beautiful about the United Arab Emirates is that it is a safe place in which to create, and now more than ever we are seeing so much active community building and engagement. Just look at the poetry scene we have – the Poeticians, Punch, Slam, Rooftop Rhythms, Sukoon – so many many different groups of people who get together to express! Dubai is bursting with orators, with poets, with creators.
Between DIFF, ADFF, and GFF – film festivals have brought some of the best emerging and established film makers to the country, offering a compelling program of films from around the world. And our local scene continues to grow through production companies like Image Nation Abu Dhabi, who run the Arab Film Studio Competition and nurture new voices constantly.
I am so happy to have been involved with the Kevin Spacey Foundation and the Middle East Theatre Academy as Stage Manager for the production “Dhow Under the Sun” written by Hassan Abdel Razak. We produced the premiere production in a 2 – week intensive rehersal process in Sharjah’s Institution of Theatrical Arts, which brought together 34 actors from 12 countries in the region to tell the story of a refugee camp.
Fujairah has hosted a compelling Monodrama Festival for the past decade, hosting the regions finest solo performers as well as international monologists.
Now more than ever the UAE is flourishing with talent – rich, diversified talents in cooking, in crafts, in art, in business and in performance. I think out of all these categories, perhaps performance could use the most support in development. I would like to see as much support allotted to theatre as is given to fine art and film. And the development of more theatrical venues and a theatre culture. Also, unlike a restaurant which can receive reviews and ratings, we do not yet have a critic culture in the performing arts. I think honest constructive feedback can only serve us – in every aspect of our lives and awareness.
How do the arts affect the region?
Not only are the arts a way through which to reflect upon our current society, the arts are also preservation and celebrations of heritage and culture. From poetry to music to story telling, the Middle East has a rich tradition of oratory arts and I think we need to actively revive our Hakawati culture (the ancient Arab art of story telling). We have many orators – speakers, writers, poet, people who build common dreams. The people who shift perspective and paradigms of those around them, and actively create the future. Globally, these storytellers do so much to counter all the negative propaganda about the Middle East and Islam.
Tell me a little about the Human Spirit project? What’s coming up?
The Human Spirit Project is the umbrella under which I create cultural and philanthropic performance projects. I have recently collaborated with composer Suad Bushnaq on a project with Forward Productions in support of the organisation Inaash. Inaash, the Association for the Deveopment of Palestine Camps, was founded in the late 1960s by a group of Lebanese and Palestine woman who foresaw the need to preserve the rich heritage of Palestinian embroidery and simultaneously provide financial support for destitute refugee families in camps in Lebanon.
I have written a poem inspired by a panel of tatriz – one of “12 Windows to Palestine” which artist Mona Hatoum exhibited around the world. Suad has composed three movements for my poem, and I was interviewed by Carol Mansour of Forward Films about tatriz for a video to be displayed with the 12 windows.
What can we look forward to from you in this year?
I am writing a play aboutay Ziadeh’s life and her letters and the 11 stages of love. I would also like to explore technology in performance – and work with projections and soundscapes.
What is your end goal?
I’m more oriented towards the ongoing journey of making theatre that is about building new worlds and healing through our stories. On this journey I would like to travel to communities all around the globe collaborating with other artist to revive ancient heroes by creating neo-mythology. A sort of theatrical anthropology. And I would like to start in the Middle East! To build a theatre culture in the UAE that is as vibrant as Chicago or London.
What do you hope the future brings?
Abundance. Peace. Happiness. Collaboration.