It’s officially fall in Springfield and with the changing leaves come exciting productions from Missouri State’s theatre and dance department. This October, the dance program is showcasing their Fall Studio Series with a student-produced work: Hunak. Brittney Banaei, senior dance major, choreographed and directed Hunak, which roughly translates to “there” in Arabic. This evening-length dance work explores the lived experience of contemporary Palestinian artists.
Banaei is senior dance major with a minor in middle eastern studies. She came to Missouri State as a dancer without any classical training; she had been a belly dancer from age 14, studying folkloric and classic forms of middle eastern dance.
Says Banaei, “I just got to the point where I needed to be doing something more with my art and I didn’t really have the resources to do that. I had always dreamed of studying dance in college.”
Banaei spent the 2016-2017 school year studying abroad in with the program Dance Jerusalem.
The complex relationship between Israel and Palestine moved Banaei: “I found that you really have two deeply rooted ancient cultures living on top of one another in a very complex way. Because of my background in Arabic dance and studying Arabic language, I became really curious and explorative of the Palestinian culture in Israel.”
A Palestinian hip-hop show in the Israeli West Bank that Banaei attended while studying abroad was a major inspiration for Hunak. The crowd was chanting what loosely translates to “The Arabs are there” and the word “hunak”—there—really resonated with her.
“I thought when I go home, I really want to remember there. I want to remember hunak, because before, my perception and the reality of Israel-Palestine was totally disconnected.” -Brittney Banaei
With Hunak, Banaei wants to shed light on who the Israeli-Palestinian people really are as human beings.
Says Banaei, “This piece was created to create conversation around a very difficult, extremely polarizing subject.”
The show features contemporary dance heavily inspired by traditional Palestinian folkloric dance. Through the process, Missouri State dancers were in regular conversation with Palestinian artists to learn about culture, history, and politics in the Middle East from the Palestinian perspective. Conversations centered around the way both MSU students and the Palestinian artists who participated in the work utilize their creative processes as a way to make sense of the world around them.
Banaei found that a challenge with bringing Hunak to life was personalizing the issues in Israel-Palestine with her fellow dancers, whom hadn’t been there themselves. She notes that she made sure the rehearsal process was “democratic and research based.” It was important to Banaei that the dance contained this educational element.
In learning about this different culture, Banaei wanted the dancers to internalize and learn more about themselves.
Says Banaei, “By using the familiar mechanism of art, of dance, it was a safe way to open a conversation, not just about Israel-Palestine, but about, in general, how we are exchanging ideas with each other. How are we going to have polite, respectful discourse with one another? Are there other ways we can open up?”
Assistant professor Sarah Wilcoxon has acted as Banaei’s faculty mentor and research partner on the project. Wilcoxon helped Banaei apply for the Mid East Meets Mid West Grant, which provided funding for Hunak from the Middle Eastern Studies department.
This grant allowed Banaei the opportunity to invite Omar Zinaty, a Palestinian musician, to fly to Springfield from Jerusalem to play live music for the performance and participate in a talk back session following the dance each night. Banaei met Zinaty in Israel-Palestine during her study abroad trip. During her stay, the two collaborated on multiple dance and musical pieces.
Zinaty arranged a fusion of classical Palestinian songs and his own work for Hunak.
“Hunak is a celebration of what Missouri State’s public affairs mission is all about. Cultural competence and ethical leadership are baked right into the performance.” -Sarah Wilcoxon
Hunak runs from October 8-9 at 7:30 P.M. in the Balcony Theater. The show is free and open to the public.
Banaei, Zinaty and the dance company will participate in a Q&A after the show.