Dance: Bid’ah


ARTSBid'ah Those of you who saw Taylor Helfand ’13 and Mohamed Samatar ’14’s performance piece this fall that was created for professor Harry Waters Jr.’s Hip Hop Performance class were lucky. Those of you who did not see it this fall now have a second chance to see these talented Mac students perform. From May 23th to May 25th Helfand and Samatar will be performing a lengthened and embellished version of this piece at Dreamland Arts in Saint Paul.

Samatar, a Minneapolis native, is a Theater major concentrating in Performance Studies. Personally, he is “interested in how performance can add to the discourses of health, rights, and politics as a platform of critique from all voices.”

Helfand, from Corvallis Oregon, is an Anthropology major with a Biology minor. She hopes to “go on to implement creative initiatives to develop new and effective solutions in the field of Public Health.”


Photo: William Matsuda ’15.
Photo: William Matsuda ’15.
Their performance this spring, titled Bid’ah, will integrate mixed media including photography, spoken word, movement, rituals and storytelling. The title itself plays into the piece’s innovative, multimedia approach. In Arabic bid’ah is a multi-layered word that encompasses concepts like innovation, novelty, heretical doctrine and heresy. In a religious context, the word bid’ah has a contested definition as the prohibition of innovation within Islam.

In Bid’ah Helfand and Samatar hope to open up a dialogue revolving around tradition—what is the difference between culture and religion as defined by rituals and traditions, what types of traditions do we perform and how do these traditions come to be.

The two use their own experiences with tradition and ritual as a springboard for opening up this dialogue in their performance. The two noted that, “we have been expanding the format to allow for a whole lot more sharing of personal experiences that we hope will pique the curiosity of the audience in relation to their own experiences with ritual and tradition.” While the initial piece performed this fall used a slideshow of images to embody the different themes the two were exploring, this piece will utilize other mediums. In the upcoming performance Helfand will perform a series of spoken word pieces which will be mixed in with Samatar’s choreographed movements, inspired by the movements of Islamic prayer. These vignettes are tucked between larger scenes that employ visual elements, stories and/or movements to tell the personal stories of the performers. All the elements are woven together with musical themes. There will also be photography present in the space. The photographs were taken by a fellow Macalester student, Clark Bledsoe ’13, and will serve as another mode of visually investigating the themes of ritual and tradition.

On the topic of their means of performing Helfand and Samatar said, “We want to use the medium of performance to inquire, interrogate, and interact with tradition being an innovative process that is often perceived as fixed and invariable. We are questioning and encouraging others to contemplate with us about how modernity interacts with tradition.”

The performance is not only interactive in the plethora of media it uses but also in its very format. At the end of the piece the audience will be invited to join in an informal group discussion with Helfand and Samatar.

The specific space, for the duo, is crucial to their interrogation of tradition. They are transforming their space in Dreamland Arts into an experiential space that incorporates themes of rituality, religion and tradition. In addition to cultivating a certain feel in the performance space, Helfand and Samatar are excited to host an event in an off-campus local venue because of the larger, more diverse audience it will draw. While they are grateful for the significant support they have received from the Macalester community, they both agree that, “a lot of really great work done on the Macalester campus has the tendency to stay within the Mac bubble, when it is often speaking to topics that the broader community and a diverse audience could benefit from.”

In order to raise money for the event, primarily to pay for the off-campus locale, the two decided to set up a Kickstarter. A Kickstarter is an online pledge system, usually used to fund creative projects, where donor money is only collected if the target amount is reached. Through the Kickstarter, various Facebook blasts, bake sales and lots of face-to-face conversations, the duo were able to reach their goal.

In response to the community support, the two noted, “This has been an amazing experience that has refreshed our faith in humanity. We know that sounds pretty extreme, but we say this honestly because without the community support that we have felt and received, this project would not be at all close to what we wanted for it.”

All Helfand and Samatar are waiting for now is your presence at their performance, go and add your voice to this new and nuanced dialogue on tradition and ritual. Showtimes are May 23, 24 and 25 at 7:00 p.m. and May 25 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets can be reserved at