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SYRIA

A Syrian dancer’s journey from hell to the Paris stage

Yara al-Hasbani was putting the finishing touches to her make-up for a performance of "Romeo and Juliet" in Damascus when she found out her father had been tortured to death.

A Syrian dancer's journey from hell to the Paris stage
Syrian dancer and choreographer Yara al-Hasbani. Photo: AFP

It was the moment the dancer's world turned upside down.

“The little girl in me died at that moment,” says the 24-year-old, who had protested alongside her family against Syria's regime in 2011 at the start of the brutal civil war.

Six years on, Hasbani may be living a new life in Paris, but her feelings on the war at home spill onto the stage through her poignant contemporary choreography.

Her first Parisian performances, in the public squares at Republique and Trocadero, right by the Eiffel Tower, were tributes to the hundreds of Syrian children killed in a chemical weapons attack in 2013.

“I took inspiration from the photos,” Hasbani says. “I imitated the positions of the children's curled-up bodies.”

She is just kicking off performances of “Unstoppable,” a 12-minute solo retracing her journey to exile, at a dance festival organised by the Arab World Institute in Paris, running until June 23rd.

Hasbani, who sports a bleach-blonde pixie haircut and a nose piercing, has slowly rebuilt her life through dance after it fell apart with her father's death.

His body was returned to the family 23 days after he was arrested by Syrian authorities. They claimed he had died of a heart attack.

When she began receiving threats herself, she knew she couldn't stay in Damascus.

“Don't you know who's talking to you? Watch yourself,” said a voice over the phone.

Hasbani, her mother and two siblings came to France three years ago after they were granted refugee visas in Europe.

In Rochefort, a scenic port town in the southwest, she finally started classes again after breaking off the professional dance training she had begun in Damascus.

She was happy to use anywhere as a stage.

“In Rochefort I'd dance in the parks,” she smiles.

In 2016 she moved to Paris, a city where she found it difficult to settle at first.

But her first visit to the famous Palais Garnier theatre opened the emotional floodgates.

“When the curtain went up, I started sobbing,” she remembers.

These days she is busy preparing for her audition to study choreography at France's National Centre for Contemporary Dance in the western city of Angers.

She's dreaming of one day working with her idol, the Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman.

But she'd also like to travel to the massive Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, home to tens of thousands of Syrians, to spread a little joy with dance classes and costumes for the children.

And she has no plans to stop drawing inspiration from the horrific events at home for her choreography.

Her dance may be silent, she says, but she'll carry on “raising her voice so people don't forget.”

READ ALSO: Syrian actress-turned-activist who fled to France dies aged 44

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SYRIA

French group to open two hotels in Damascus

France's Louvre Hotels Group has signed an agreement to open two hotels under its own name in Damascus, the first with a western hotel operator since Syria's brutal civil war began in 2011.

French group to open two hotels in Damascus
Louvre owns the Golden Tulip five-star brand. Photo: Louvre Hotels Group
The confirmation of the two hotels opening, after recent media reports, came a day after the UN announced an internal investigation into the bombing of hospitals in Syria, and as at least six civilians were killed by the Syrian regime and Russian fire in northwestern Idlib province in the past days, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
The region of around three million people, many of them displaced by fighting in other areas, is one of the last holdouts of opposition fighting against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
   
The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance led by Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate controls most of Idlib as well as parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces.
   
The hotels “will open soon under the brand name of Louvres Hotels Group,” the company, which is owned by China's Jin
Jiang, said in a statement.
 
Louvre Hotels Group said the deal was signed between Syria's Nazha Investment Group and “a partner with whom Louvre Hotels cooperates in the Middle East”.
   
The exact number of people killed in Syria's war is unknown but hundreds of thousands have died.
   
Several dozen medical facilities with links to the UN have been damaged or destroyed by bombs this year. Russian has denied deliberately targeting civilian installations.
   
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday said an internal inquiry would look into the bombing of hospitals in Syria which had previously flagged their coordinates to avoid air strikes.
   
“The deal is strictly in line with international law and all international directives regarding Syria,” the French company statement said.
   
According to the website, The Syria Report, it is the first agreement with a western hotel operator since 2011, when the devastating conflict began. Louvre Hotels Group was taken over by China's Jin Jiang in 2015 and it operates more than 1,500 hotels in 54 countries.
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