Transforming gestures into dance

An interview with Nedjma Hadj Benchelabi and Shaymaa Shoukry

After its launch in 2019, the second edition of “Un|controlled Gestures”, curated by Nedjma Hadj Benchelabi and Shaymaa Shoukry, once again presents works of young choreographers and dancers from Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and Palestinian Autonomous Territories. In residencies in Berlin and Cairo they came together to develop new creations of contemporary dance at the crossroads of multiple art disciplines. An interview with the two curators.

Could you please introduce yourselves?

Nedjma Hadj Benchelabi: My name is Nedjma Hadj Benchelabi, I’m a curator, dramaturge and based in Brussels, working with choreographer focusing on performing art on contemporary dance.

Shaymaa Shoukry: Hello, my name is Shaymaa Shoukry, I’m a dancer and choreographer, I’m from Egypt and I’m based in Cairo and I’m also very happy to be here with this nice invitation from Nedjma to join the group and follow the artistic process.

What does the title “Uncontrolled Gestures” mean to you?

Nedjma: This title was already there because we did one first edition already before Covid some years before the first time we thought of this project it was with a college from Goethe-Institut Cairo and Anna Mülter (former curator at HAU and artistic director of the festival Theaterformen, editor’s note), and we thought of how can we explore gestures that are uncontrolled, uncontrolled meaning in a very wide way, uncontrolled because of the society, because of the religion, because of our self, controlling ourself, what is controlled is not controlled. It’s a way of exploring movement and new scores, new vocabularies, and maybe also taking vocabularies that are there but are not yet visible on stage, so how can we bring these gestures, movement in performing art and add to the known languages in dance? So that was the first edition, and because it’s so important to support creation and to support process, so we thought of continuing the first edition and to make a second edition with another group of artists and I invited Shaymaa this time to co-work with me in this mentoring and in this process of creation of eleven artists. 

Shaymaa: It’s a title that initiates some kind of movement and also since all the projects are coming from dancers from the Middle East, for me it’s a bit embedded in the culture, how we use gestures, and how this can be transformed into dance and embodied, and creating a language for movement and dancing. The idea of control or awareness or spontaneous movement as another layer to look at movement and dance and what is somehow conscious, what is intentional, and how to build between that, and building also on the languages of the body and the culture that is embedded in the body and how each body has its own language. So for me this is how broadly how I perceive [it], and I like the “un” in brackets because it’s playing with opposition and duality.

What does it mean for you and the participants to be in Berlin now?

Nedjma: To have a kind of retreat, to have a kind of distance from the usual context, to get a focus on each proposal, that’s the main thing and then of course if you are in Berlin at HAU you can also get to know other artists, you can go and see other performances, you can also benefit from being in a cultural scene that it’s nice to discover because they’re not here just to showing and going, they are here like two weeks and a half and that gives you also time to build relations and to discover other practices. It’s very important in fact to be able to discover other artistic practices, not only in performing art but in visual art, and the cultural scene of Berlin is such a rich scene so I hope this will take them in other imagination.

Shaymaa: Like dreams coming true for some people. To have the capacity to be able to share their work on a stage like this and to have this idea of integrating all the technical work early on in the residency process and to be able to have access to facilities and access and to dialogue with other aspects beyond their own studio dance, so for me this is a very important and lovely gift somehow because usually you have more unlimited stage time when you are showing your work, so this is a very big gift i would say. I feel like in the future of the artists who would be participating it will open a lot of possibilities and doors.

Why should the audience not miss the events?

Nedjma: We have nine artistic projects, each evening three artistic projects. So it’s kind of a small focus, it’s a work in process. We will share with you and you will be generous with us, be with us, accept our voyage, our journey, and they really are working and giving the best of them for this presentation. As I say, when you see someone moving and dancing, it’s a way that- it’s not maybe you would want to dance with, but it also kind of lets you imagine many things about you and about your society. It can also let you dream, dreaming is so important. It lets you think about where we are together and how we can be together. I think the idea of the deceleration of time- you know, like when you are here with us in the evening, that’s our topic. It’s how we are related to time, and how we can decelerate. Instead of every time going going going and moving and moving and doing and doing, we are in a society where we are always running running running and doing and filling our agendas, so how can we decelerate and think about what we are and what we are together. This is really- it was our starting point in looking to this time. That’s our invitation, it’s really that. Being together and kind of freezing time and taking the time to reflect what is happening on stage but also what kind of emotion you can get and what kind of dreams and imagery it can open to you.

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Un|controlled Gestures – 2nd Edition

With Abdallah Damra, Aїda Jamal, Lori Kharpoutlian, Mehdi Dahkan, nasa4nasa, Nermin Habib, Synda Jebali & Sara Dziri, Yara Boustany, Ziad Wallace

Curated by Nedjma Hadj Benchelabi & Shaymaa Shoukry

15.–17.12.2022 / HAU3


An initiative of the Goethe-Institut in collaboration with HAU Hebbel am Ufer.

Photo: Lori Kharpoutlian