Palestine’s premier dance troupe, El-Funoun, gave Cairo a taste of Palestinian folklore Monday evening at the Cairo Opera House.
The performance, entitled “Images Remembered, was organized by the Palestinian Embassy as part of the Cairo Opera House’s “Ramadan Nights program.
The show was well attended by dignitaries from the local community including Nabil Amer, the Palestinian ambassador to Egypt, Egyptian celebrity couple Najlaa Fathy and Hamdy Kandil, and the Lebanese ambassador to Egypt, Khaled Ziada.
El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe was established in 1979 by group of artists looking to preserve and express Palestinian cultural heritage through performance art.
The group is widely recognized as the cultural entity that has played the most significant role in reviving and reinvigorating Palestinian dance and music folklore in spite of systematic Israeli attempts to undermine Palestinian culture.
Since its inception, El-Funoun has aimed at expressing the spirit of Arab-Palestinian folklore and contemporary culture through unique combinations of traditional and stylized dance and music.
The group was the subject of a 2006 documentary, “Emotional Rescue, by German director Helena Waldmann, which was honored at the Al Jazeera film festival.
Currently, the non-profit troupe consists of over 100 volunteer dancers, singers, musicians and support personnel.
Ambassador Nabil Amer introduced the show, speaking of Jerusalem’s role as capital of Arab culture for 2009 and relating the importance of Palestine’s capital to the central role of Cairo as a gathering place for Arab artists and writers through the years.
As the performance began, the packed hall was captivated by El-Funoun’s artistic take on Palestine’s successive oppression under three different occupiers: the Ottomans, the British and the Israelis.
The performance travels into the Palestinian collective memory, portraying symbolic and important recurrent images from the Ottoman and British colonial times as well as from the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Each tableau combined El-Funoun’s signature modernist touch with classic themes and steps from dabka, Palestine’s traditional dance.
The troupe’s moves were accompanied by an eclectic soundtrack that incorporated everything from Egyptian percussion to haunting a cappella chanting to Palestinian folk classics.
Between each section, edgy graphics and shrill announcements of curfew signaled the transition from one occupier to the next, as the audience saw a single soldier hand over power to the incoming occupier.
The themes covered in the performance ranged from scenes of everyday life to powerful portrayals of resistance, all underscored by the dynamic energy of the troupe’s skilled dancers.
The show’s deft melding of interpretive all-female numbers with traditional scenes of agricultural work and martyrdom gave the audience a powerful sense of the continuity of Palestinian oppression over successive generations, even as it invigorated viewers with a sense of hope for a different future.
Following the finale, which combined portions from a number of traditional Palestinian songs with spirited dabka steps, the audience was elated.
Members of the local Palestinian dance troupe, El-Falluja, gave an impromptu performance in the lobby as the audience enjoyed Palestinian refreshments.
“The show was amazing; as a dabka dancer and a Palestinian I’m proud to see a group that has put so much effort into preserving our culture and making sure that the world sees who we are as a people beyond the conflict, said Hasan Bseiso, a Palestinian student who was raised in Egypt.
For Palestinians the world over, having the spotlight on the best of their culture is a welcome change from the constant diet of political disappointment. It provides an accessible outlet for resistance against cultural domination during a period where a political solution seems less and less attainable.
For their part, the El-Funoun troupe will continue their resistance through performances around the world, beginning with a show in Denmark, scheduled for the end of the month.