Days and 1001 Nights
review by Barbara
Dallal author of They
Told Me I Couldn't: A Young Woman's Multicultural Adventures
embarked in 2005/2006 on a journey of 40 nights each to
five Islamic areas including, Banda Aceh and Indonesia, Siwa
Oasis, Egypt, Zanzibar, Jordan and Xinjiang, China. The inspiration
for the trip was an Arabic proverb “If you stay among a people
40 days, either you affect them or they affect you”. She also
was concerned that the average Islamic person was in the global
media being portrayed as an extension of Islamic terrorists.
She therefore created a tripartite project—film, book, concert—each
titled 40 days and 1001 Nights to demonstrate the diversity
of Moslem culture through music and dance. This review considers
only the DVD’s of film and concert as the book is at the time
of this review yet to be published.
With her film,
Tamalyn Dallal enters the field of documentary that one might
find on the Travel, National Geographic or Discovery channels.
As the world has become smaller and people have gained more
access to visual media, it is a form that has been critiqued
by specifically nonwestern writers for the commercialization
and exotification of the native; a position that consistently
places the native in a position of needing the external observer
for their very existence. For writers such as Edward
Said and Frantz Fanon and others,
such programs are just a continuation of colonialism. And yet,
to dismiss Dallal’s project as just another colonialist venture
seems to me to not acknowledge the impact of the twenty-four
hour news channels and their limited portrayal of Islam and
the real need that exists for another portrait that moves the
public discourse towards a more balanced perspective.
The film of
version of 40 Days and 1001 Nights begins in Banda Aceh
and Java Indonesia and from South East Asian traverses to the
Siwa Oasis of Egypt, Zanzibar, Jordan and finally the Xinjiang
province of China.
is a filmic journey in which the people do not speak even as
they are waving at the camera; instead, their voice is represented
by a sound track. This combination of image and music continues
through the entire film.
Beautiful boy in Zanzibar
collage of images pass before my eyes, I realized how important
it is for me to get the ‘sense’ of a place to participate in
the sounds of an environment from the street vendors to the
silence of the desert or a deserted house. Instead of sounds
of the environment, there is a labeling of spaces with an on
screen text as Bedouin tent, bathroom, olive oil press, etc.
This filmic method only further distanced me from the context
and the people within it. The latter was combined with a lack
of knowledge by the individual holding the camera of how to
tell a story with visual images. Thus there are lots of moments
when the camera strays across the landscape for no apparent
reason or moves in sporadic jerks from one visual moment to
combination of lack of integration of local sounds of the environment
with camera technique required on the part of the viewer an
enormous concentration and resilience to stay with the film.
the strength of the approach is that it is akin to reality television
in that it allows the viewer to contemplate a series of images
and in the process to reflect on their meaning to them as individuals.
Consequently, I found that at the end of the film I was contemplating
the variety and diversity of people of Islamic faith that live,
laugh, make music and dance.
the film did expand my visual awareness. Now, did it deepen
or extend my understanding of what that diversity implied? My
response would have to be no.
The DVD concert
is in two acts. Act one features a set of solo and group pieces
to the music of the Ikhwani Safaa Musical Club that are technically
exciting and beautifully performed by Tamalyn Dallal, Amar
Galma, Bozenka, and the Middle Eastern Dance Exchange.
The second act combines New York style popping by Hypno
and Tiny Love, with a poignant mask piece by Kaeshi
Chai, a touching modern dance piece by Elisheva
in tribute to the victims of the tsumani, bowl dance from Xinjiang
by Montserrat, a rendition of the Zaar by Hanan,
followed by a Alexandra and Timoteo’s
version of a Saidi style debke, and Dallal’s choreographed version
of women celebrating.
The DVD of
the dance concert Dancing Across The Lines incorporates
the music of 101 year old Zanzibar company Ikhwani Safaa
Musical Club and the music of Bahda Achech’s singing star
Rafly. The concert and its proposed international
collaboration raises a series of questions related to the complex
positioning of performing ensembles that use music and dance
vocabulary from specific regions. For example: to what
extent do they replicate or attempt to replicate the dance and
music from a particular location? In an ever changing
world how does music and dance represent history and tradition
while at the same time existing within a context of social/cultural
change? Who is responsible for maintaining the authenticity
of the tradition? What are the issues with regards to access
to the positions of power that allow for distinct artistic voices
to be heard?
Street scene in Kashgar, Xinjiang (Islamic China)
dressed as woman dancing at a wedding in Ramtha, Jordan
was a nod to Islamic countries, in total, the concert lacked the
deep presence of the Islamic countries represented by the concept
of ’40 days and 1001 nights.’
a viewer, I was anticipating a revelation of the Arabic proverb
that had inspired Tamalyn Dallal, and kept asking myself as
I viewed the tape, How was Tamalyn Dallal’s artistic identity
transformed or changed by her experience in these countries?
to the music from the country, I did not see evidence in the
choreography, costuming, or the staging of the dances the use
of ideas of the local movement vocabulary, landscape, architectural
styles, or language in the way one might in the work of other
contemporary artists such as Ping Chong or
Ralph Lemon who have made similar journeys.
Nor, did the concert provide the artistic vibrancy of concerts
which represent specific cultural groups such as Egypt’s Festival
of the Nile. Thus, while I really enjoyed the concert
I found it difficult to make a definitive connection between
the DVD as documentary and DVD as concert.
I am left with the question which cultural critic Susan
Bordo poses in Unbearable Weight, whose body
is this? Or phrased another way, what is the ethical position
of the artist in an increasingly globalized world in which ideas,
images and dances move quickly across the cyberspace of Youtube.
I personally appreciate about such projects as the one Tamalyn
Dallal has undertaken is that they place such questions in the
public domain and cause us to think and reflect on how we as
individuals and artists contribute to this global conversation.
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Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Days and 1001 Nights by Tamalyn Dallal
envisioned it as a book in which I would travel to five Islamic
countries and live for 40 days in each, writing about my experiences.
I was traveling in Indonesia, one of my friends wrote back "You
need to be filming this!" I did, and a musical documentary
film was born
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I think that there is something for everyone on this
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