Dancer in residence



Leyya Tawil dances at Zeitgeist.
  • Kimara Dixon
  • Leyya Tawil dances at Zeitgeist.

By Jamie Carroll

San Francisco-based dancer/choreographer Leyya Tawil’s came to New Orleans for a six-week residency at the Central City Artist Project and will perform Friday at the opening of the Middle East Film Festival at Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center. The dance will be improvised to music by local pedal steel guitar player Dave Easley. A classically trained dancer who does experimental work, she calls the approach “instant live performed research.”

She’s interacting with local musicians and Central City neighbors during her residency and hopes to develop new work. “It will be reflective of the vibe of the city, as well as the framing of the performance,” she says. The piece at the film festival’s opening night will also incorporate her efforts to dispel stereotypes about Arabic culture and dance.

Tawil, who is of Syrian and Palestinian decent, stumbled upon the Zeitgeist in the Central City neighborhood and asked to be a part of its Middle East Film Festival. The Central City Artist Project created the artist in residence program to engage the community through original pieces inspired by the neighborhood. Artists submit a proposal on how they expect to give back to Central City, some through street art and festivals, others through local exhibitions. During Tawil’s six-week residency, she will offer dance performances do research for her own work. “The music here is beyond anything I have experienced,” she says. “People are really original spirits doing what they personally believe in.”

Tawil has traveled around the world, collaborating with artists as research for her dance and choreography. In 2003, she created Dance Elixir in San Francisco and has since performed in Europe and the Middle East. Dance Eilxir’s mission is to illicit dialogue about identity and culture through collaboration across many disciplines. Earlier this year, she was an artist in residence at the Hotel Pupik in Austria, where she created a short film featuring dance and German artists and musicians. In New Orleans, she is working on performances and film with three local musicians. She will display some of that work at a performance at Zeitgeist Saturday, Dec. 11.

The opening night festivities of the Middle East Film Festival on Friday, Nov. 26, include an opening reception at 6 p.m. followed by the U.S. premier of the Turkish Film Dark Cloud and Tawil’s performance. Tickets are $9, with discounts available for students and Zeitgeist members. Visit for more information on the festival. To learn more about the Central City Artist Project, visit


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