Dancing Through the Intifada: Yasmeen Godder’s “Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder”

Posted on 05 March 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Yasmeen Godder's "Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder"

Yasmeen Godder’s Stawberry Cream and Gunpowder.  Photo by Tamar Lamm.

The cameras in this region frequently capture pictures of destruction and death, of terror and torture, of bombing scenes and blood, of gore and grief.

Working in a different medium, the choreographers in Israel do not often turn their gaze in this direction.  But in 2004, Yasmeen Godder focused her artistic lens squarely on the conflict in her country – and specifically on the tragic images flooding the media – in Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder. Transforming real photographs into surreal scenes, Godder and her Bloody Bench Players exposed the complexities of the situation to the audience and cast its horrors in sharp relief.

I watched Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder on DVD in autumn 2007, and after collecting myself – it’s not an easy work to watch – I spent much of the night writing about this haunting dance.  The result, “Dancing Through the Intifada,” first appeared on my own blog on November 13, 2007.

* * *

I just returned home from watching a DVD of Yasmeen Godder’s haunting Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder (2004), and it’s impossible for me to think of anything else at the moment.  Created a few years into the second intifada, Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder is the first work I have seen which tackles the situation directly, with imagery drawn from media reports of the violence.

If my mind was fresher, perhaps I could write a rich, fuller description of the dance’s action, for indeed there is much that is worthy of comment: prolonged stillnesses which force the viewer to register the horror of these televised, photographed images; the way bodies skilled in release technique, with their loose and reactive limbs, all too believably portray bodies responding to the force of gunshots and physical manipulation; how a context of terror transforms typically normal and even joyous positions and actions; the dressing of the space, with unfixed patches of grass scattered across the stage and an automated gate on stage right; the combination of an original score with the dancers’ piercing emotional cries and occasional bursts of singing; the progression of energy and time, with all hell breaking loose at the end; the curtain call, with two dancers still fully in character during and after the audience applause, finishing moments later as if to emphasize that this is not a fictional scenario limited to the stage time or to the theater’s interior.

Right now, however, my mind is caught up with more philosophical musings and questions.

Yasmeen Godder's "Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder"

Yasmeen Godder’s Stawberry Cream and Gunpowder.  Photo by Tamar Lamm.

Looking through my historical lens, Godder’s raw, powerful treatment of the intifada makes her heir to American choreographers Anna Sokolow and Danny Grossman.   Indeed, as I watched this DVD, images from Sokolow’s Dreams – which dealt with the Holocaust – and Grossman’s anti-war Endangered Species flashed through my mind.  Godder’s project, though, is distinguished from that of her predecessors in that she and her dancers were living through this horror as they created and performed Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder.

I started to wonder: how has the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (and mandatory military service) marked these dancers’ bodies (and the creative mind)? What is it like to be in process with a work like this while the trauma is continuing in your environment?  What is it like to view a work like this when the trauma is continuing around you?

Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder
is also distinct from the aforementioned works by Sokolow and Grossman in its depiction of the ambiguity between right and wrong, innocence and guilt in the current conflict.   Whereas the figures in Grossman’s Endangered Species are clearly victims (the innocent father, mother, and child) or perpetrators (the general and the monkey/soldiers – though arguably the troops can also be seen as somewhat victimized by their tyrannical leader), the dancers in Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder alternate back and forth between these two roles.  One moment they are prone on the floor or despairingly hunched over the corpse of a beloved, and the next they are aggressively wielding guns or triumphantly dragging limp bodies through the space.  Real life in the Middle East is not always black or white, and Godder’s theatrical frame chillingly reveals the gray area.

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*This post was made possible thanks to a Fulbright student grant funded by the U.S.-Israel Educational Foundation and hosted by the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.

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