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Meet Kholoud Sawaf

Originally published on December 19, 2019 in Maia Directors.

Kholoud Sawaf is a Syrian director and creator living in The United States whose work is driven by physical storytelling and ensemble practice.

Tell us something you’re currently excited about.

I am very excited about a new chicken salad I’ve learned to make recently. It includes sweet onions, cranberries, celery, and walnuts. My friends and I cook together a lot, and this is the most recent discovery.

How does your MENASA identity inform your artistic work?

It probably shows the most in my artistic aesthetic. As a result of the work I was exposed to and experienced as a child (Ziad Rahbani’s work and Caracalla I Dance Theatre, for example), I am attracted to physical, musically-driven storytelling. My work often incorporates both movement and music, while simultaneously leading an audience on an emotional journey. While I tend to lean towards non-Western traditions of ensemble practice, my aesthetic is married with the practices I learned in the American training I received, which makes for an interesting combination.

What’s a bucket list project?

Hmmm. I would really like to devise a comedy featuring Muslim women. Possibly with puppets.

What are the big questions you’re preoccupied with right now?

How do we as individual artists address and fight back against incidents of racism and tokenization, especially when there isn’t a willingness to admit to these actions from an

individual or institution? And then, how do we move forward after the harm inflicted from both the racism and the gaslighting surrounding it?

What’s the weirdest thing about you you’re willing to put in print? Or anything else you want to tell us!

“My onion is burnt” is an Arabic idiom meaning that someone has no patience. It’s inspired from the idea that if you are cooking onions and you turn the heat on high you’ll burn the outside without cooking the inside. One of my closest friends often teases me saying: “your burnt onion is in the way, do you want to borrow mine?”

Want to see more of Khloud’s work? She’s directing an educational tour of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING with The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival this spring/summer — and notes that she’s excited to be helming a great comedy that has nothing to do with being Syrian or a Muslim woman!