Nawa, Sahar Damoni ©Sjoerd Derine

Existence as Resistance

In Nawa, Sahar Damoni expresses the pain and the pleasure of living in her body as an undivided experience. Nawa had its German premiere at T-Werk on the 23rd and 24th of May 2024, in the frame of the Potsdamer Tanztage festival.

Trauma can linger in one’s body as a haunting memory. If the body is put under an anaesthetic state while the trauma takes place, would the pain be numbed? Would the body forget? In her piece about her traumatic experience of her abortion surgery while being under anaesthesia, Sahar Damoni dares to face her memory head-on.

The stage is dimly lit with ten poles of different heights spread out in the space. The silhouette of Damoni, seen far upstage, sings a song in Arabic. She then walks onto the stage, turning her back to us, and stands by a tall pole. A voice recites in English, “First, you shake…”; it sounds to me like it could be an excerpt of a self-help instructional guide on how to overcome a traumatic experience. As if a switch has been turned on, Damoni shakes. Matching the staccato of the music, I see her body, dominantly her pelvis, as it is the part that moves most actively, vibrating in articulate pulses. She wears only a black tank top and panty, revealing her skin trembling, on and on, as if in a silent scream. The shake that began in a contained manner gradually opens up; Damoni’s face and her whole body expand into bigger movements. She shouts, opens her mouth, sticks her tongue out… It feels as if she is confronting us with her body, demanding to be seen as she chooses to be.   

In the artist talk after the show, Damoni explains that to speak about abortion, especially if one is a single woman, is a taboo in her culture. In the programme note, she describes herself as ‘a Christian Palestinian-Arabic choreographer and dancer from Schefar’am in Galilee’. She shares that even though Nawa deals with the trauma of her abortion, she wishes to share not only the pain, but also the pleasures of being in her body. She says, “Me, as a woman, I always fight to have freedom of my body.”

After the shaking that developed into what felt like an encounter with the audience, the piece shifts into depicting an internal landscape. Damoni, now in a long white netted dress, walks between the poles. One end of the long single thread that makes up the dress is tied to a pole. Her movement pulls the thread and the dress slowly unravels from its bottom, creating a web all across the stage. The web gets denser and denser as Damoni walks on, giving an impression that I am witnessing the memories of her body being visualised more and more vividly and complexly as the tightly knitted emotions unwind.

Creating and sharing the work has healed her from the trauma of her abortion, Damoni says in the artist talk. Hearing this, I wonder if every trauma is curable and if not only personal, but also collective traumas can be healed. As I read Damoni’s programme note (‘I make art for myself, for my wholeness, for my humanity. And I share this art with those who open their hearts and minds. I continue to live and create in a divided place. My dance is my act of resistance,’ she writes) I remember that for some bodies, demanding to exist fully with self-determination is in itself an act of resistance.

Nawa by Sahar Damoni had its German premiere at T-Werk on the 23rd and 24th of May 2024, in the frame of the Potsdamer Tanztage festival.