SCoJeC’s ambitious collaboration with the Scottish Refugee Council to bring a mixed group of dancers, including Syrian refugees and an Israeli director to Scotland as part of Refugee Festival 2019 went ahead despite some of the dancers having problems entering the UK – which provided the opportunity for them to teach some dance steps to the immigration officers at the airport!
Come As You Are #Berlin is the fruit of an astonishing collaboration between an Israeli choreographer and three Syrian refugee dancers, exploring what happens when dancers who had trained back in Syria in ballet, musicals, and folklore arrive in the contemporary dance world of Berlin, with its radical exploration of freedom and identity.
It is ironic that our support for this powerful creative exploration of the refugee experience was affected by some of the very issues that the performance explores. Although live performances weren't possible, the event still went ahead with a video of a full length performance of the show. The audience were spellbound by the film of the performance and felt they had a really good understanding of the power and strength of the performance and the story it told.
Following the film, Director Nir de Volff, who devised and choreographed the show, answered questions from the audience for more than half an hour, covering the choices of music, the nature of the improvisation, how the show came about. where it had been performed, and whether it could help promote peace in the Middle East! He told us that, at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, he had realised that dance could be used to help migrants deal with the emotional and physical stress they had gone through. The training he developed at that time for non-dancers was very beneficial, and led, eventually, to him being introduced to the three Syrian dancers when they arrived in Berlin some time later. He started to work with them to develop improvisation and contemporary dance skills, and after some time, began to realise that their story could become a show in itself. He also said that the group had twice been invited to perform at prestigious events in Israel, but were unable to accept because of fears for the safety of the dancers’ families in Syria.
“It was a great evening: the film of the three dancers was amazing. Hopefully one day I’ll get to see the performance live. Thanks for all your efforts to bring this unique powerful performance to Scotland.” wrote one participant, and another told us "It was a great pleasure to meet everyone in person and I'm so sorry for the frustrating bureaucratic hassles. I wish only good things to you, Nir and the amazing dancers – please tell them, for us, that their performance made us think and touched our hearts. With all the very best wishes, and much gratitude."
A Klezmer Ceilidh followed, with Edinburgh band Kleyne Klezmer providing the accompaniment for a multicultural mix of dances – the Bulgar, the Patsh Tantz, the Hora, the Honga, the Russian Sher, and the Alexandrovsky Waltz.
As well as the show in Edinburgh. Nir ran dance workshops in a Glasgow primary school, and with refugee families, and the last day of Refugee Festival Scotland sees a day-long dance workshop with a two-hour contemporary dance session from Nir, followed by workshops in Israeli and Klezmer dance.
Many thanks for their support to: University of Glasgow Chaplaincy and University of Glasgow Sport, Greyfriars Kirk, the Scottish Dance Theatre, Netherlee and Clarkston Charitable Trust, Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, Scotland Limmud, Sukkat Shalom (Edinburgh Liberal Jewish Community), and Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation.