Festivals celebrate the art of dance in Tunisia
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.”