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A woman carries a large pack on her back. We hear her before we see her, as she rounds the corner of a wall, dividing upstage from downstage. She takes slow, deliberate steps, her body bent at a right angle in order to manage the tremendous weight. The task is burdensome, but she continues slowly through the space. She moves the pack from her back around to her front, and desperately grasps at the cloth, as if holding on for her life. Setting it down, the physical burden is released, but the pack’s presence seems to take up half the room. As if it holds all of her memories from the past, and hopes for the future. She will have to pick it up again, if she wants to continue on.

Photo by Jim Coleman

Local dance artist Jenna Eady and her father, Palestinian playright and director Hanna Eady, present a new work-in-progress, FLOOD, at Base: Experimental Arts & Space, culminating a three-week residency. As part of each residency, Base provides artists unlimited access to the space to work on developing ideas and honing creative visions. By the showing, it’s clear that the Eady’s have a strong connection not just as family members, but as creators and performing artists. It’s hard to believe this is their first time working together. 

Hanna sits behind a translucent panel of the wall, his silhouette backlit, his only movement coming from Masbaha beads (similar to rosary beads) passing through his hands. He speaks with Jenna in Arabic and English, and even through the wall we see the tension in his shoulders, and hear the worry in his voice. He ruminates about the oppression of his people, building a city from the ground up, only to have it taken away. Although concerned, he seems to remain stuck behind the wall. Jenna stays calm as she responds, perhaps tired from her journey. Her tone is rational, as if to imply, This is the way it is.

Photo by Jim Coleman

FLOOD examines the experience of leaving one’s country. More so than the actual process, it seems to display the state of mind when it comes to leaving, and how leaving itself allows one to take a stand. Jenna portrays this complex decision through textured movement that surpasses language. After setting her pack down, she moves fluidly, melting in and out of the floor to sound by Israeli artist, Habib Hanna. Jenna’s performance is both elegant and dreamy, as she pulls the audience into the present moment, and the context briefly falls to the background. Later, her movement becomes more punctuated as she performs a traditional “Dabke,” a middle eastern folk dance typically done in large groups at weddings. A slight smile brushes across her face, her eyes unfocused, perhaps lost in a family memory? The lively ritual of a group wedding dance brings up the idea of not only leaving a country, but also a culture behind. Her pack still sits by, waiting for her to leave her daydreams, confront reality, and move forward into a different life.

Although they aren’t playing themselves exactly, FLOOD takes the point of view of the migrator, an experience familiar to the Eadys. Hanna is from Palestine, and is the only immigrant in his family who left by choice to live in America. Jenna has dual citizenship, and according to her, “When your culture is being threatened and erased, everyone is trying to hold on tight, we’re all afraid that we will forget…and yet as an American woman, I have experienced freedoms and ideas that challenge some Palestinian traditions. So how do we preserve culture and grow simultaneously? I think that is the question my father and I are asking. Can we bring our Palestinians traditions with us while we try to live our fullest lives?” 

Photo by Jim Coleman

They hope to explore this idea more over the next year together in their work, having informal showings such as this one, and eventually creating a full length show. The duo will operate under Hanna’s new theater company, DUNYA PRODUCTIONS, which “creates art and performance that will inspire, educate, and impassion our audience to engage with the global struggle for social and political justice.” Although the situation at Mexico’s border might be at the forefront for American viewers, FLOOD reminds us that the Palestinian situation, among others, remain just as critcal.  

At the end of the piece, Hanna finally emerges from behind the wall to confront Jenna face to face. They stand in a moment of tension as she, the migrator, declares without apology: “I’m leaving.”

Find more about the Base Residency season here.