Dana Dajani does a little bit of everything. She is, at once, an actor of film, television and theater; a writer of poetry, prose and scripts; and a producer and presenter of cultural, creative and corporate events.
In 2011, Dana moved to Dubai, where she quickly gained recognition for her performances in Arabic and English. On stage, Dana wrote and starred in Kalubela, winner of Time Out Dubai’s award for Best Theatrical Performance of 2012. Her short films have been in festivals across the Middle East, garnering awards such as Best Actress in Tropfest 2011 and Best Film at the Arab Film Studio Competition 2013.
Additionally, Dana is a published author and poet, and can often be spotted performing her spoken-word poetry in a musical collaboration called Floetics. A freestyle riff on rhythm and rhyme, Floetics have performed at many premier music venues and festivals in Dubai.
Independently, Dana has collaborated with Dubai-based cellist and producer, Aaron Kim, to create an EP called “type two error” which fuses electronic sounds and poetry.
This award-winning Palestinian actor and writer is based in Dubai and was recently a part of the Emirates Literature Festival.
BQ Plus interacted with her on her passion, inspiration and achievements.
I began my professional career acting in theaters in Chicago, and then moved to the UAE. Since there were not many professional opportunities in the theater in Dubai, I began putting my skills as a public speaker to use as an MC and event host. I acted in many award- winning films, in TV series, in commercials. I recorded voice overs and was a guest speaker on radio shows. I curated content for exhibitions, and wrote copy, magazine articles and poetry. I found more and more ways to bring what I love about performing into all aspects of my life.
How do you see yourself as an inspiration for the work you do?
I think it’s rather inspirational to see that one can have a very fulfilling career as a freelancer, not tied down to one role in one city. I guess I am a living testament to the fact that you can be a professional artist in Dubai. I hope that this can inspire others who are not quite sure it’s safe to take that leap into perusing their creative passion full-time. Success naturally follows passion, no matter the industry, and it takes courage to live out the truest expression of that passion. Do it!
What is your biggest achievement?
My biggest achievement to date was to perform at the Sydney Opera House in 2013. As an actress, it was a dream to grace the stages of this global icon of culture and performance. I was one of two international artists invited to participate in a production honoring Swami Vivekenanda – the man who promoted Vedanta in the West. The producers assembled a diverse cast to create this production, and I was the Muslim actress cast in the production. It was such an amazing feeling to be part of this ensemble.
Your biggest hurdle and how did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge as a young woman pursuing a career in the performing arts was how to convince my parents that I could have a successful future. It was really difficult to continue in spite of their doubt about my path and pressure to conform to the life they had envisioned for me. But I persisted in making my own way, and I’m really proud of my accomplishments. When my parents started to hear from their friends, “Oh, I saw Dana’s poem on Palestine, you must be so proud of her,” they eventually accepted that maybe there is a place for performers in our world.
What is your ultimate goal?
I believe we have a missed opportunity in Dubai- we are a consumer culture set amidst the finest everything from all around the world. We also have a lot of local talent and we want to express ourselves! But where can we go to develop these ideas? My goal is to build a creative rehearsal space for artists in Dubai. It will be a cafe to nourish the body with great vegetarian food, while you nurture your talent in one of the fully-equipped music, dance, and theatre rehearsal rooms. And you won’t have to be professional to use the spaces – they will be open to anyone! My partner and I cannot wait to open this space in early 2017.
What’s the biggest misconception of women in the Middle East?
The biggest misconception is that women in the Middle East are weak, uneducated, and lack opportunities. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. All around me, I see empowered, excited, elegant, and educated women who are from, or have come to, the Middle East because they know they have a role in building the future here.
How would you define a strong woman today?
A strong woman is one who knows her worth, who is a citizen of the world and embraces both her feminine and masculine powers, shamelessly. She is constantly learning, innovating, integrating. She leads with her love: love of self, love of family, love of community, and gives from her full heart.
You were nominated for UAE artist of the year, can you tell us more about the nomination.
To be honest, I am not quite sure who nominated me for the award of Emirates Woman Artist of the Year 2016, but it was an honor to be recognized for the work that I do. I have also recently won the Young Arab Award 2016 in the category of entertainment, and that too is a great and humbling achievement and affirmation that the art I create and the space that I hold for the community to grow is valued and appreciated. It inspires me to continue on this mission to make Dubai a global Capital of Culture.
Can you explain what is the Human Spirit Project (THSP)?
The Human Spirit Project is my non-profit commitment to creative story telling which highlights the resilience of the Human Spirit. The goal is to share stories which illuminate the shared connections and semblances across cultures, which I believe outweigh our perceived differences. In the long term, I would like THSP to become a platform for theatrical anthropology. I would like to spend time with different communities across the world, absorbing their narratives- creation tales, mythologies, heroes, and weaving all the different stories together in one big tapestry of story.
You have a hand in everything what is your favorite?
It is really difficult to narrow down my passions to one favorite. I enjoy acting on stage as much as I enjoy writing. I enjoy philanthropy as much as I enjoy producing festivals and events. I think what I enjoy the most is the process of creating – whatever the outcome may be.
Activism for Palestine is another important aspect of your work, can you talk more about your video with Lara Sawalha?
The Real Truth About Palestine was an initiative by Visualizing Palestine with the support of Kharabeesh. Lara and I were asked to present an incredible script written in response to Danny Ayalon’s string of Israeli propaganda films. It was an amazing experience, and to this day, it is one of the projects I think that all of us look back on with the most pride. Danny Ayalon actually responded to our video and that proved to us that our message struck a chord.
Does your political stance limit your career or even put you in danger?
After The Real Truth About Palestine was published online, we received a tremendous amount of feedback. On one hand, we were commended and encouraged for our witty comebacks and accurate rebuttals. On the other hand, I received a lot hate mail and even threats from other communities. That was very scary and rather intense. It was the first time I had ever experienced such a negative response towards my work. I was extremely depressed for a time afterwards and it took me about a year to have confidence and power to speak out again. Going forward, I know what is possible, and have developed much thicker skin.
What are you currently working on?
There are always many pots on slow simmer in my life. One is to publish my poetry. I have been collecting and editing what has now become three books of poetry, which I hope to publish in 2017.
Another great project is a documentary film about my grandmother. She recently gave me 60 reels of 8mm film taken from her travels around the world in the 70’s and 80’s after she left Palestine. The film will showcase an alternative Palestinian narrative, which is of Palestinians in diaspora who became global citizens. I am also happy to have my hand in a few theatrical engagements and even a couple of films in the coming year.
This article is from BQ Plus’s Issue 10 – April-May 2017.
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