Alaa Krimed towers over his dancers.The 34-year-old Syrian-Palestinian is visibly tense, preoccupied with the outcome of the rehearsals, worn down by choreography tweaks, and painfully aware that performance day is only three days away.
His 14 dancers, UAE-based members of the Sima Dance Company, sit in a semi-circle on the floor of Warehouse 38 in Alserkal Avenue, where they have rehearsed for the past four hours, beads of sweat glistening on their skin, some panting from the exertion of the dancing that has wrapped up. And they all stare intently at Krimed and nod when he reminds them that it is their energy and their synchronisation with the music - more than their technique, more than their balance even - that he cares about above all else, come performance day.
“I want to see energy. I want you to synchronise,” he tells them. “That’s what the performance needs; that and your full love. I don’t want the perfection of movement, really I don’t care about it. Look, we didn’t practice for two months, we did only 9 to 11 rehearsals and not all of you were here for all of them, so please, energy. And synchronise with the music.”
It is no wonder that Krimed is a little on edge, seeking perfectionism from his dancers. Saturday is the date of the first, official performance by Sima in their own space, the Sima Performing Arts Centre.
“This will be ‘take three’ for Sima,” says lead dancer Lana Fahmi, who is also Krimed’s wife and partner.
After having to uproot Sima from its native Damascus, and again from its adopted Beirut, the hope is that it will be third time lucky in Dubai for the contemporary dance troupe.
Originally founded in 2003 in Damascus by then-student Krimed, the Sima Dance Company has since grown to become an innovative pioneer in contemporary dance, ambitiously producing large-scale theatre performances with a global standard of excellence.
“Alaa was studying at the Higher Institute of Arts in Damascus, and on the side, he would choreograph contemporary pieces with a handful of his peers; that’s how the company started,” says Fahmi. “Him and a few dancers simply wanted to do something different, at a time when the only common form of dance was traditional folklore and dabkeh, or classical ballet.”
Contemporary dance was both rare and rigid back then, and Krimed sought to change that. “He saw contemporary dance as a way of expression,” says Fahmi. “It combines all types of dance; you can use hip-hop movements, you can use jazz, you can dance to Arabic music or oriental music or rock. It’s so free, it allows you to explore because there are no restrictions. That’s the beauty of it. It was so different, and people began to appreciate it.”
And in the case of Fahmi, she fell in love with a little more than the dance. A first-year English Literature student at the time, her love for theatre drove her to watch a dance performance choreographed by Krimed. “I was amazed by what was happening on stage. I knew immediately that that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to become a dancer.”
With no formal dance training, it is usually rare to succeed in the contemporary technique but Fahmi was determined.
“She has such passion for dance, and she is the hardest worker I’ve ever met,” says Krimed. “She’s the best dancer I have, because no one works at it like her.”
For two years, Fahmi followed the rest of the dancers, staying at the back of the room during rehearsals, watching, learning and imitating. “They taught me; every single one of the Sima dancers, as well as Alaa,” she says.
The dance company began to grow and flourish, putting on performances at the Damascus Opera House, leading the opening of the Damascus Film Festival, holding auditions to entice more dancers to join the troupe. And as they grew, so did the relationship between Krimed and Fahmi, until the two tied the knot five years ago.
"We didn't have a wedding because of what was happening in Syria at the time," says Fahmi. "It was just a civil marriage; no party, that wouldn't have been appropriate, plus we all had to be home by 7pm anyway, it was too dangerous to be out. We got married and then spent two months feeling like prisoners in our own home."
The two decided to take a trip to Beirut, intending to stay for just 10 days. But the immediate freedom they experienced once crossing the border made them realise there was no future for the Sima Dance Company in Syria, not while war continued to rage.
“By the time we left Damascus in 2012, we had over 70 dancers in the company,” says Krimed. He worked tirelessly to get his dancers to join him in Beirut, and succeeded in getting 12 of them out for a performance in Lebanon. Eventually, Krimed was able to resume hosting classes and directing workshops in Beirut, while choreographing for his dance group.
Soon after, Arabs Got Talent came knocking and the couple were convinced to audition for the pan-Arab talent show. "We had nothing to lose," says Fahmi. "And when we won, it was crazy. We never expected it, we never thought people in the Middle East would vote for a contemporary dance company."
But vote they did, and the Sima Dance Company became the 2014 winner of the third season of the TV show.
Now, the couple have chosen to build a life in Dubai. They arrived two years ago and have been teaching contemporary dance at a studio in JLT. “Strangely and surprisingly, it has been going really well,” says Krimed. “Everyone said Dubai prefers more commercial things, like salsa or tango, but we didn’t find that to be the case at all. There is such an appreciation for what we do.”
And what the couple do, above all, is run the Sima Dance Company, which they were both desperate to resurrect. Acquiring a space that can become a performance venue as well as a place to conduct classes, sessions and workshops, while also collaborating with other artists and hosting performances, talks, screenings and more, became their dream.
On Saturday night the dream becomes a reality, and the official opening of the Sima Performing Arts Centre will begin with a free performance by Fahmi and 13 other dancers from around the world. Two of the dancers are nine-year-old girls that have danced since they were one.
“We are recreating the Sima Dance Company here, but it’s a bit different in Dubai. All the dancers are freelancers. They have other jobs. They teach dance or yoga, or pilates; they are in the field of movement and art, but not just dancers with our company,” explains Fahmi.
Krimed will continue to work tirelessly on getting his dancers out of Syria and Lebanon. “I want them all to join me here in Dubai if I can make it happen,” he says. “It’s something I will always work on.”
Although he married Fahmi, all of his dancers are his family, regardless of the 'bad cop' routine he likes to adopt, says his wife. “He pressures the dancers, which is important, to get them out of their comfort zone and to push them to give their absolute best, but at the end of the day, he cares about each one of them just as much as he cares about the performance. This space is as much for them, and for anyone who has a passion for dance and wants to learn, as it is for us.”
The official opening of the Sima Performing Arts Centre is on Saturday at 7pm. The hour-long performance is free, on a first-come, first-seated basis. Find the dancers at Warehouse 38 at Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, and follow their social media account to keep abreast of future workshops and events.