'I Dance, I Revolt': The Migratory Politics of Syrianness in Mithkal Alzghair's Displacement

Shayna M. Silverstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During the intensification of migration and border politics throughout Europe in the mid-2010s, displaced Syrians fleeing war to seek asylum and a livable life were simultaneously welcomed as vulnerable strangers who could contribute to European economies and societies and perceived as threats to the imaginaries of a homogenous Europe. This essay critiques the logic embedded in this narrative, namely that migrants are a social factor external and destabilizing to Europe, through a critical interpretation of Syrian choreographer Mithkal Alzghair's work, Displacement (2016). This provocative dance work pivots on Alzghair's reimagining of dabke, Syria's celebrated folk dance, in which he deconstructs the social relations and embodied aesthetics of popular dabke practices to forge a political critique of Syrian authoritarianism and forced migration. By crafting a repertoire of movement that critiques the aesthetic and political ideologies on which it is based, Displacement arguably disrupts the postcolonial imaginaries of national identity and place that have historically ensconced folk dance in Syria and in Europe, respectively, and transforms the possibilities of what cultural heritage connotes, represents and signifies for Syrians and Europeans. Instead, the destabilizing work of embodied performance reveals how instability is endemic to European spaces and society. Through the convergence of performance theory and praxis, this essay demonstrates how Displacement stages live, perpetual, repetitive, and embodied motion in ways that open a space for artists and audiences to collectively engage with a fractious period and reconfigure the complex relations of power and representation situated between Syria and Europe.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-358
Number of pages22
JournalMiddle East Journal of Culture and Communication
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023


  • authoritarianism
  • cultural heritage
  • dance
  • Europe
  • migration
  • Syria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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