TANWEEN, founded in Damascus in 2009, is a theatre and dance company and an ensemble of several artists. Between Europe and the Middle East, TANWEEN has been producing several artistic projects, including text-based theatre, performances, installations, and community theatre. It has also contributed to several cultural and social activities, engaging in cultural policies, initiating cultural events, academic enterprises, and community building.
The concept of approaching truth(s) is central to the company’s projects. The Dream Project and Mistakes in Theatre are among the many topics TANWEEN has tackled in its theatre and performance projects, academia, and social work. The Dream Project responded to the Arab Spring protests, when the radical political and psychological changes influenced the collective and individual subconsciousness, and this in turn has changed the collective and individual expressions and behaviors. These changes became the seeds of various theatre and performance projects as well as installations, short movies, workshops, and academic contributions.
Mistakes in Theatre started as a PhD thesis. The variations of its functions and meanings were the concepts of several theatre projects and further academic research. The question the audience provoke ‘was it really a mistake or did the actors pretended it?’ echoes the question of representing different realities on stage. The question of reality is extended to discuss mistaken identities, misrepresentations, misperceptions, ambiguity, theatre tradition and cultural stereotypes.
In 2009, TANWEEN organised Damascus Contemporary Dance Platform (DCDP), the first international choreography festival in Syria. The festival was interrupted in 2011, and TANWEEN members fled the country and scattered between Europe and the Middle East, until its members reunited in 2013. Since residing to Germany, the company has expanded its network with several German and international theatre institutions and has been engaging in artistic projects, academic enterprises, support of Syrian artists and cultural activists, and contributions to cultural policies.
‘My dear audience, we are sleeping! Do not applaud please, we are dreaming’.
Mey’s works blend science with art, activism with trauma, classical ballet with bare feet and bare stages, initiation of cultural and artistic projects with experimental performances.
At the age of six, Mey studied at the Ballet Conservatory in Damascus. In 1999, she moved to Germany to study at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Art in Frankfurt. Her ongoing research project is on the body in political protests. Beside the academic engagements at various symposiums, Mey gives dance and movement classes at different academies and was a supervisor of the artist training program at the UDK.
Mey’s wide interest in diverse topics and cultural projects is manifested in The Dream Project. The project started as a documentation of the changes in the Syrian late-night dreams since the protests began in the country in 2011. The archive contains dreams coming from different Syrian experiences and collects dreams by protesters, detainees, officials, refugees, artists, ISIS fighters, journalists, and imprisoned soldiers. The archive became an inspiration of different artistic projects, which include choreography, live performances, installations, short movies, digital arts, and NFT at the metaverse.
The Dream Project engages also in the socio-political domains, especially when the archive reflects another sort of truth and what is really happening in Syria and with the Syrians. Mey conducted workshops on Lucid Dreaming and how to deal with individual and collective traumas. Along the years and after communicating the dreams, in the form of arts, lectures, and workshops, at international platforms, it was striking to find that the Syrian dreams were not specifically Syrian. Similar symbols, objects, feelings, and means of expressions were found in other models of state of emergency, such as Nazi Germany and the Covid Pandemic. The archive widened and the projects multiplied with international artists working on international subconsciousness.
In 2009, Mey founded the first international dance festival in Syria: Damascus Contemporary Dance platform. The festival was interrupted in 2011, when the demonstrations launched in Syria. Mey’s administrational engagement continued, as she co-founded NEWSA (New Empowered Society for Women Activism) in Berlin. She also co-organized several cultural activities, including German Dance Award: Symposium “Positions: Dance #4, creating access-diversity” and working at Goethe Institute in Damascus till 2011, and then with other Goethe projects in Germany. Mey has also served as a board member of Regional Association of the Free Performing Arts LAFT Berlin, and in charge of diversity politics and policies at the Federal Association of Dance in Germany DTD.
Ziad’s works comprise staging theatre, involvement in academia, and leading workshops on acting and writing techniques. After graduating from The Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Damascus in 1998, he moved to London and stayed there till 2008, working and studying theatre. He studied for an MA in Text and Performance Studies at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and King’s college in London, and then took a PhD in Theatre Studies at Royal Holloway University of London; his thesis was “Mistakes and Making Mistakes in Cultural Performance”. He taught Performance Theory, System of Rehearsals and Mask techniques at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Damascus/ Syria.
Mistakes in theatre became central in Ziad’s artistic and academic work. Normally, the audience questions the authenticity of mistakes when they occur in theatre ‘did the mistake really happen, or is it made up?’. The question of reality extends in most of his plays, exploring the difference between the truth and the believable. In the context of the current power imbalance in politics and arts, mistakes and pretending mistakes associate the question of reality with the topics of misrepresentations, misperceptions, cliches, stereotypes, and artistic and political expectations. Are these stereotypical and inferior events really happening or are they made up?
Ziad was affiliated with several academic projects, including the German Research Foundation-funded project ‘Global theatre histories’, and the European Research Council-funded project ‘Developing theatre: building expert networks for theatre in emerging countries after 1945’ at the University of Munich. His papers explore theatre as an institution in the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf, covering aspects of theatre developments such as theatre academies, individual and governmental initiatives to disseminate theatre, purpose-built theatre houses, national theatres, festivals, and drama periodicals. He also contributes to academic projects on performance theory, theatre and interculturalism, and theatre and protests.
Ziad also acted in several European and American film productions. He was the artistic director of Invisible Stories, a series of street theatre events that took place in different places in Damascus. He runs different workshops on writing and acting techniques, as well as other workshops with cultural activists. Ziad has also served as a board member of several cultural institutions such Mamdouh Adwan Publishing House, and Al Share’ Media.