Interview with Rabeah Morkus

Rabeah Morkus, a 42-year Palestinian choreograph is the founder of the dance group Rimaz,1 as well as the first dance school recognized by the State in the Arab sector of Israel. She lives in Akko (St-John of Acre) but the school she founded, where she teaches classical, modern, and contemporary dance, is located in her village of birth, Kfar Yassif.2 Rabeah is a perpetual dancer and her speech emerges from a body in movement.

How did you arrive here?

Since 1953, my father was a member of the communist party in Israel; in 1978 he was elected mayor of our village. He often traveled to Moscow to educate himself. It is there that he encountered ballet, and became infatuated. Recently I found a letter he wrote to my mother, in which he said that ballet and dance are an essential path to a new cultural blossoming of the Palestinian people. He dreamt of a Palestinian generation that would be introduced to this artistic domain. My mother was also seized by this passion, and with the party, they organized a performance by the Russian group of Bolshoi Theater. So naturally, I slid into this field. At the age of six, my parents signed me up for a ballet class in Akko. I arrived alone, by taxi from my village, dressed in black, with my dance shoes. Initially, I didn’t even understand the instructions given in Hebrew, but little by little I found my bearings and succeeded.

What does the mother evoke for you?

I am a mother of a little three-year old girl, which is magnificent. The path that I took to become a mother was fastidious. I needed to find the method to combine maternity and my art. I am very attentive to my body, and I proceeded along this path in a permanent dialogue with it. I had always wanted to have a child, but initially, I was busy with my projects of dance and my creation.

In 2006, I married in order to achieve this desire of a child. For us, one does not have children without being married. I diminished my dance activity, but still, I could not carry out pregnancy to term. I was inhabited by the willpower to have a child, but at the same time, I was guilty of not investing 100 percent in dance. My husband said, “don’t worry, it will come.” But this only made me even angrier. Sometimes, I no longer wished for him to be by my side. In his place, I wanted to hear the voice and respiration of a baby. It was an obsession. They told me all the time. “Let it go, relax… and it will come.” But I couldn’t let go.

I told myself that I needed to begin again, to create differently. So I stopped dancing and began choreographing and teaching dance. I founded the company Rimaz and the school. The longing to do things returned and once again I was very active. At this moment, I became pregnant. When my daughter was born, I was 39 years old and 4 months.

The instruction “let go…” seems to contradict desire. It is precisely when you achieve your relation to dance that the desire for the child succeeds as well.

Exactly. But there was still a path to travel, and it was not simple. So that my daughter could be born, I was obliged to spend five months in the hospital without moving, in order to avoid a miscarriage. For someone such as me, endlessly pushed to movement and dance, it was a hellish prison! I nearly lost the baby, who was very low. But what was a danger to the doctors was to me a manifestation of my daughter’s desire for life. She wanted out, she wanted to come, she fought against a problem she had inside my belly. And so I began speaking with her, touching her through my belly and made her go back up so she would be safe. The doctors didn’t understand how that was possible.

Meanwhile, immobilized, I observed the movements of others. The displacements of nurses and doctors became dance steps. Moreover, I saw many women around me in the hospital who wished to have children and encountered problems: infantile illnesses, miscarriages, extra-uterine pregnancies, and money problems… I wondered: “Where is this maternity that they say is the most beautiful thing in the world?” I realized that one could only conceive of maternity as one by one. For each woman, it is a singular experience. My daughter was finally born after seven months of pregnancy and straightaway she was strong. There wasn’t even any need to connect her to a respiration machine. She has continued to be this way, a girl with a powerful will to live. I learnt how to combine my work with my maternity. I am no longer guilty when I embark on my engagement to dance.

You speak of culpability in relation to dance. Could you speak more of this?

I am not believer, but for a dancer, dance is god. It is something that pushes in the body, an obligation to be in movement that must be continually embodied. When one does not do this, one feels guilty.

So, if at the beginning of our interview, it seemed to us that dance was linked to your father; we are learning that there is another dimension.

Yes, for me, this manifests in a limitless tendency to work. I begin at the school very early in the morning, then the company, then the school again, a performance… Often I finish at one o’clock in the morning. The presence of my daughter has introduced a limit. Where before the imperative, « let go » had no effect, there is now a concession on my part. If for example my daughter is sick, this is part of my life. I must organize myself differently, initiate something in the program of my creation and make room for the unforeseen. I improvise. I leave my work to join her, or, I take her with me to the school or the studio. I install her in a comfortable place, and from time to time I take breaks to care for her. Anyway, I am always improvising, especially in class. When I give a class, I do not arrive with a preconceived program. It is the same for my choreography and work with the company. I always leave, in a dance that I create, a leeway for the dancers to improvise. For that, one must consent to proceeding in such a way that not all goes according to a plan. I do not have a preprogrammed project for my daughter either. I do not impose dance. She will improvise her life. For me, to be a mother is to improvise.

Interviewed in Akko on the 1st of August 2014 by Patricia Bosquin Caroz and Gil Caroz.

Translation to English by David Hafner.

[1] https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=i3CAw7WDcwk

2 An Arab village in northern Israel.