TALENT WATCH: DANA DAJANI
Actor, Director, Poet, and Playwright
By Sophia Grifferty
Dana Dajani is a creative talent and a vocal activist to be reckoned with. The 25 year old Palestinian actor, writer, director, and poet made her artistic debut with her short film “At First Sight” based on a poem by the Syrian romantic Nizar Qabbani which landed her the finalist spot at Tropfest Arabia in 2011 along with the award for “Best Actress”.
Dajani attributes her artistic perspective to her experience growing up between the USA and the Middle East, and describes herself as a ‘third-culture kid’. Despite living abroad all her life, she maintains a visceral connection to Palestine, often airing her views across social media, against oppression and occupation.
Dajani says her passion for performance began as a child when she would constantly read out loud any and everything she could find. “This funny habit lent itself very well to drama, and I was cast as the narrator in my first play in kindergarten. I never stopped performing!” She says she went against her parent’s wishes for her to pursue a career as an engineer or lawyer by secretly switching her major in university to a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Theater. Ever since then, she has been making her living by performing on stages around the world.
Poetry, another passion for Dajani, began as a coping mechanism after her family abruptly left Saudi Arabia when Al Qaeda bombed the compound of her home in 2003. “I immediately began to fill journals just trying to process my thoughts. Writing had only been creative exploration for me, but after the bombing it became therapy- introspection.”
Last year was a career high point for Dajani, who was scouted to perform at the Sydney Opera House a play celebrating Swami Vivekananda’s teachings on peace, harmony, and the concept of Absolute Oneness. Dana joined Bengali actor Shaheb Chatterjee, along with a cast of 10 Australian actors and four musicians in the World Premiere of “Oneness: Voice Without Form”.
“Honestly, that was one of the greatest experiences of my life; to spend two months studying people of such profound character, then to embody them, perform for full houses at a global icon of culture like the Sydney Opera House, and tour our production to Brisbane as well…it was such an honour to be there. It was an experience I will always treasure,” she enthused
Dajani draws inspiration from an interesting pool of storytellers: “Especially the Hakawati, or ancient Arab orators, I want to revive that old oral tradition in a contemporary style! Other inspirations are: Mike Daisey, an American monologist who is constantly pushing the boundaries of modern one-man shows and storytelling; Kate Tempest, British poet and musician who tells stories in rhythm; and Macklemore, American hip hop artist who uses every song as a platform for his activism.”
Dajani loves to combine performance poetry with live music. “For two years, I have been performing with Layla K- an amazingly soulful Jazz singer, and three very talented musicians, in a band called FLOETICS- an experimental riff on rhythm and rhyme, combining poetry, melody, and lyrics.” FLOETICS gained regional attention when they were recently featured in ‘TheFLEX’ on Fox Arabia.
Independently, Dana has collaborated with musician Aaron Kim to create an experimental EP called “type two error,” a dark fusion of Dana’s poetry and Aaron’s electronic music. Dajani says she aims to publish a collection of her poetry and prose in 2015, and that she may include in it some of her theatrical pieces such as “Medusa’s Misunderstanding,” a humorous monologue that presents an alternative history of the notorious Greek character. Dajani has also penned two plays; the first is an Arabic farcical twist on the story of Adam and Eve, while the second play is a hip-hop drama written in verse. Both were performed at a short play festival in Dubai in 2013.
Dajani is currently working on a play about the correspondence between May Ziyade and Khalil Gibran. She describes the unusual relationship: “The two literary figures wrote each other for 19 years, but never met. They were in love, and once Gibran died, Ziyade went mad. Arab scholars and poets often refer to “jnoon”, or insanity, as the highest form of love. This play will be an exploration of their relationship as chaptered by the Arabic ‘levels’ of love.”
Inspired by the famous Persian poet Rumi, Dajan cites the words that have inspired the direction of her life towards exploring art and spirituality, “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do, there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the Earth.” In a prose piece, she reiterates his famous words, “Let every act be one of worship, every word a prayer.”
Check out Dana Dajani’s poem, “Love Letters from Plaestine”, filmed in Bethlehem in 2013: