Making Gestures: A Conversation about Dance, Bodies, Space, and Anti-Ableism

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LÉOPOLD LAMBERT: Farah, Adrienne, you are both choreographers; I thought that it could be interesting to initiate this epistolary dialogue around questions that intervenes through your work (with varying degrees of expliciteness); thank you for having accepted to participate to it. We may say that your working matter are the bodies in movement. This means that, whether you want it or not, your work is necessarily engulfed by the various political forces that, for most of them, essentialize bodies and, for a few of them, attempt to resist such an essentialization. Before we even talk in the specificity of each of your two performances, could you tell us how you address these forces more generally in your work?

FARAH SALEH: In the past few years I have been busy creating a Palestinian Archive of Gestures by unearthing hidden stories of the Palestinian narrative using the body as the main source and form. I deal with different political bodies in my work: the bodies of individuals in the stories I attempt to uncover, the bodies of the performers and the bodies of the audience. I explore the gestures in the original stories and try to reenact, transform and deform them with my body and the bodies of the other performers, but most importantly with the bodies of the audience as a way to disseminate the gestural archive and allow it to become exterior to more people.

The bodies of individuals in the alternative stories unearthed are bodies under Israeli military occupation or living in the Palestinian diaspora and in constant confrontation with their reality. The bodies of the performers act as a living archive, carrying all the political gestures uncovered as a form of self-historization, questioning who creates and owns an archive and ways of delinking from the colonial narrative. Through participatory performance, where the audience is asked to embody the gestures archived, the bodies of the audience become an extension of the living physical archive.

To relate my long-term research on the archive of gestures to “Brexit means Brexit!” I moved to Edinburgh two years ago, just a few weeks after the Brexit vote and I felt right away the physical, psychological, social and political tensions of it. As a Palestinian holding an E.U. nationality, I felt targeted by the vote, so as many other non-U.K. citizens. I felt it was a vote again “the other.” I started researching with Professor Victoria Tischler the mental health of U.K. residents and felt the urge to archive the Brexit gestures, unearthing alternative narratives than those repeatedly shown in the media and exclusively recounted by politicians.