Nicole Bindler, a Philadelphia-based activist, choreographer and dancer, gave a lecture discussing her social justice-centered performance at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) on Nov. 2, 2017. Bindler focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and more specifically the Palestinian struggle for freedom from occupation under the Israeli government.
Bindler is a body-based performing artist. She is a member of the Jewish Voice for Peace Artist Council and is also the founder and director of The Institute for Somatics and Social Justice.
Throughout the lecture, Bindler made reference to her extensive work as a choreographer and dancer, showing many photos and videos of her projects. She exhibited videos of her latest project WOMEN, a hybrid folk-contemporary dance detailing lives of women living under occupation. This collaboration was done with Diyar Theater in Bethlehem, Palestine.
She spoke about the Israeli occupation of Palestine through the lens of a Jewish woman, elaborating that though she grew up in a secular non-Zionist family, there was still a taboo surrounding discussion of the conflict. In college, her roommate studied abroad and visited Palestine, bringing back photos that she was hesitant to show Bindler, but eventually did, leaving what Bindler described as a lasting impact on her views of Israeli occupation.
Bindler discussed her participation in street theater, a style of theater performed in front of random people in a populated area, like a performance she did in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass. to raise awareness of the conflict. She said they created the scene to reflect the lack of mobility Palestinian people face. It depicted a woman being held at gunpoint by two Israeli soldiers as she tries to get her sick child to the hospital. She also mentioned the use of die-ins as a way to get people’s attention.
Throughout the lecture, Bindler said that, though Israeli media works very hard to make it seem like Palestinian life is not terrible, it is in fact a life of extreme oppression and lack of freedom due to the Israeli government’s control over border, and by extension, all resources. She showed pictures of one town where a giant wall had been built around the homes, except for one which lay outside the line, and instead was surrounded by a large electrified fence, remarking that they were “penned in like animals.”
In her piece WOMEN, Palestinian women use dance as a way to tell their unique stories as a group marginalized on two fronts: as those who live under occupation, and as women. During the piece the women hold bowls of water to represent the Mediterranean Sea, which most do not have access to but yearn to visit.
In general she said that access to water is unequal, citing the luxury swimming pools in Israel contrasted with the lack of water to shower in Palestine. The dancers also hold up what most would see a two fingers denoting a peace sign, but Bindler clarifies actually means V for victory, as in Palestinian victory from occupation. She notes that it is controversial for women to make this gesture because traditionally men only do so.
Bindler explains that though some may see performing arts as a trivial way to be an activist, dance has the ability to allow people to perform their feelings, trauma and joy without having to use words to educate. She stated, “I’m not naïve, I don’t think dancing will end the occupation, but to be able to express themselves through a dance is a way to remember their humanity.”