Festivals celebrate the art of dance in Tunisia

Sunday 08/05/2016
A show by Hafedh Zellit at Tunis, Capital of Dance.

Tunis - Stages in Tunisia recently were given over to danc­ers and choreographers celebrating International Dance Day with a series of shows and workshops reflecting the state of the art of dance in the country.

Tunis hosted two festivals, Tu­nis, Capital of Dance and Dancing in Tunis, organised, respectively, by Tunisian choreographers Sihem Belkhodja and Bahri ben Yahmed during the last week of April.

After an interruption, due to financial and organisational hur­dles, of ten years, ben Yahmed re­launched Dancing in Tunis on the occasion of the International Dance Day. He emphasised the impor­tance of diversifying dance venues and opportunities for youth to dis­play their talents.

“In addition to diversifying the celebrations of International Dance Day, we wanted to create new alter­natives for young people to avoid any monopoly in this domain,” ben Yahmed said.

The festivals primarily serve to promote young talents, he said, es­pecially people who are interested in dance and do not have adequate space or opportunities to showcase their work.

“We wanted to create new spaces where young people can show off their creations. The festival Danc­ing in Tunis consists of a particular vision and programme for young creators and young talents,” ben Yahmed explained.

“This edition is not just a plat­form to distribute shows and the works of young people but it also provides a space for training and workshops.”

While Dancing in Tunis dedicat­ed its creations to new style dance and hip-hop, Belkhodja’s Tunis, Capital of Dance celebrated the city of Tunis as a forum for dancers and choreographers. The festival had programmes in Tunis, Sidi Bouzid, Gafsa and other Tunisian cities. The festival’s slogan was: I dance, therefore I exist.

With daily dance performances and workshops, Tunisian youth had an outlet for their art as well as opportunities to improve their talents and experiment with new styles. The festivals created a plat­form for dancers of different disci­plines to exchange skills.

Tunisian choreographer and con­temporary dancer Rochdi Belgasmi said dance in Tunisia has seen sig­nificant progress since the revolu­tion as artistic creations enjoyed more freedom.

“The general state of dance is quite positive, especially that there has been some progress after the revolution. As a dancer who was active before the revolution, we suffered from restrictions on our freedom,” he said. “Today, there is help from the ministry to choreog­raphers and artists and many ven­ues have been created for dance shows.”

Belgasmi, however, expressed concern regarding the lack of train­ing and workshops. He called on professional dancers to invest in training programmes for young dancers.

“There is a problem with train­ing. We lack trainers for jazz, new style and other styles of dance. I personally perform in Tunisia but I feel that there is more demand on my work from international audi­ence,” Belgasmi explained.

Ben Yahmed added that festivals should provide space for work­shops and training, which are im­perative for the improvement of young dancers.

“There is a great attendance of young people at the workshops, especially because young people are thirsty for this kind of activi­ties. They don’t find another space where they can perfect their tal­ents,” he said.

“We were amazed that young dancers came from different re­gions from Sfax, Sousse and Biz­erte to attend the workshops. We brought trainers of a great level, which motivated young people to learn from international dancers who came to the country for this purpose.”

Because of a lack of dance ven­ues, Kais Harbaoui, one the partici­pants in Dancing in Tunis said he learnt dancing on the streets of Tu­nis. He commended the workshops for making highly skilled trainers available and encouraging young dancers.

“The same applies for workshops that started attracting many young talents for free style and technique of improvisation,” Harbaoui said.

With shows exploring different styles, Belgasmi called for the in­clusion of Tunisian dance in festi­vals as it symbolises Tunisian iden­tity and heritage.

“I believe in celebrating tradi­tional dance,” he said. “While I appreciate that Tunisian dancers work on a rather universal styles of dance, I would like to also highlight the importance of our folklore by revisiting the patrimony, the local dance and bring that form of dance to contemporary styles to create a Tunisian contemporary dance that speaks to all Tunisians.

“Today, my audience is a mixture of all categories and I believe in tar­geting the largest audience possi­ble by spreading the contemporary language of dance to reach every Tunisian who would not necessar­ily appreciate contemporary styles but would definitely relate to Tuni­sian dance traditions.”