Trio uses art to promote well-being at AlUla festival

ALULA (Arabnews): A trio gave voice to its art, as music, dancing and poetry came to the fore at the AlUla Wellness Festival.

Raghad Fatahadeen sat on an elevated platform reciting poetry in a soothing voice, while Mustafa Fahmi played music in the background. In the front, dancer Bilal Allaf performed an elaborate dance that encapsulated emotions the poet was trying to convey.

Fatahadeen, 27, said of her work: “It’s not exactly poetry, and it’s almost like a guided meditation, like a speech. You don’t know what it is, so we call it spoken poetry.”

Allaf’s introduction to Fatahadeen came when he saw her read her poetry in an open mic night. He said: “I didn’t know what Raghad wrote; it wasn’t necessarily poetry but nature. So I approached her and asked her if there was a piece she would like to read while I improvised it, and she first naturally opposed the idea. It took a bit of convincing, and then finally we performed on stage for the first time.”

They both said the audience went completely silent during their first dance performance. Initially they thought the assembled crowd disapproved, but the applause that followed was loud enough to ease their doubts.

The duo then added Mustafa Fahmi to the mix to provide background music to the multisensory experience.

Allaf said: “I was maybe six or seven years old when I started to get interested in dancing. I always wanted to be in the middle of a place and put on a show that would grab the attention of people.”

As a child, when he moved to Germany he was finally able to find something in the world of art that he liked doing.

He said he was extremely committed because he wanted to learn as much as he could. Dancing did not come naturally to him and he had no background in music, dance or rhythm.

There were even times in his life when he stopped dancing, but he would slowly gravitate back. After leaving it to one side for three years, it was the COVID-19 pandemic that encouraged him to return to his art.

He immersed himself in the world of dancing again, this time on his own terms, and began to practice regularly.

He said: “I tried to understand the importance of it in my life, in the society, and just the nature of dancing as a language.”

He started exploring improvisation instead of choreographed dances, and has continued that trend into his current performances.

He said: “With improvisation, I feel like I can express my emotions better, I think it is a pure art form of storytelling. I feel like this is a form of non-verbal communication and as a performer it is a very profound expression.”

Fatahadeen has performed at many wellness retreats and is a passionate poet. She described the process of writing her first piece as “receiving it.”

She added: “I did not sit down to write it, it just came to me, and I wrote it as fast as I could.” She shared it with her friend Allaf and the pair then began to build their art.

She said the trio brought the three elements together to provide something for everyone. She added: “I think bringing all these things together helps create a holistic experience where we are not only performing but creating a space, inviting people to reach a state where they connect with us and receive.

“This is how I would explain it, but people understand things differently,” Fatahadeen told Arab News.

Their performance combined three different pieces. The first was inspired by Fatahadeen’s upbringing and life experiences, the second by Allaf’s life and the struggles he has been through.

The third has been described as a summary of everything in life and to ask people to remain optimistic.

Fatahadeen said: “We are coming to this life and it is chaotic. It is overwhelming, and we go through it all. I just wanted to urge people to not hold on to the anger and sadness and allow themselves to learn and grow.”

The audience was swaying to the words during the performance; some even shed tears as the emotions touched them. Allaf said that having that kind of reaction was very new to him, but it also put a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. He added: “I have to take in the feedback that the people are giving to me and I also need to understand what art and storytelling can do and the power it holds.”

Fatahadeen had a different take on things. She said: “I don’t know if it’s my effect on people or if it is people’s effect on themselves, what they have offered themselves.

“I am just a facilitator and a part of that journey. It is definitely beautiful that I was able to deliver and someone received it. I hope they carry it with themselves and let my words change them in some way.”