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Daniel Ming tells stories across media, continents

Features Editor

Published: Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, February 24, 2010 14:02

Daniel Ming

Daniel Ming ’10 travels in Tel Aviv during his time in Israel. Ming will incorporate his dance experience with his peace and conflict studies major by creating a thesis involving performance art.

Daniel Ming '10 speaks like a dancer. He is calm and graceful, measured and lyrical as he describes his summer and semester in Jordan and Palestine, respectively. It's amazing that he is so calm, really, considering that has not one, but two projects looming in the immediate future. This weekend, Ming's dance piece entitled "Oh!" goes up at the Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre's annual performance at Poughkeepsie's Bardavon Opera House and the thesis project for his independent peace and conflict studies major is due in early May.

At first pass, Ming doesn't seem like an impulsive person, so his decision to temporarily withdraw from Vassar when the study abroad program he signed up for in Jordan turned out to be too limiting for his tastes is a surprising one. In 2008, Ming was the recipient of a Tannenbaum Peace Fellowship and spent the summer after his sophomore year working with a Jordanian Catholic priest who develops interfaith relationships between Muslim and Christian communities in the country. During his time in Jordan, Ming took time off to visit the West Bank where he toured the area with an anti-occupation group called Stop the Wall.

Ming's visit to the West Bank brought him to a village outside the city of Nablus, a territory in the occupied West Bank. He describes the community as "under siege" from an Israeli settlement that "sort of looms over this Palestinian village." A few weeks prior to Ming's visit to the village, a male Palestinian teenager had been shot dead by Israeli Defense Forces, bringing harsh immediacy to the narrative of daily life in a conflict zone.

The young boy's death illuminated "a side of Palestine" that Ming found he couldn't abandon, and decided only two weeks before the beginning of his program in Jordan to remain in the West Bank for the fall semester to intern with a Jerusalem-based academic publication called the Palestine-Israel Journal. He participated in the annual Palestinian olive harvest, a little known West Bank activity that is—perhaps somewhat predictably—fraught with conflict and violence over land use.

In his quiet way, Ming has become obsessed with the West Bank and how to narrate the peace and conflict he encountered there. It might be fair to call his study of peace and conflict a study of story as well. How does one begin to tell a story that doesn't condense into categories and resists abstractions when you're standing in the middle of an olive grove? Says Ming, "I really want to be a journalist," and he's well on his way. Ming is the recipient of an honorable mention for the 2009 Elie Wiesel Essay in Ethics Prize and has published in the Paris-based French language publication L'Express.

Blogging "became a huge part" of his time in occupied Israel, and he used the medium to glimpse the "very warped version of life" that is "living under an occupation." Ming continued to blog ( upon his unexpected January 2009 return to Vassar after war broke out in Gaza. Indeed, his most recent post is a recounting of how Ming first heard the story of the dead teenaged boy.

For Ming, who speaks only limited Arabic and no Hebrew, part of the fractured storytelling coming out of the West Bank was his work with a translator. At times Ming found working in translation a "huge barrier" that prevented him from "getting the full story." It's an interesting allegory for his time in the West Bank, where Ming reflects, "there is no governing narrative for the conflict." Ask an Israeli soldier and you'll hear one tale; ask a Palestinian olive farmer, and you'll surely hear another.

Returning again and again to a desire to weave a tale of complexity of life in occupied territory, Ming began his senior year "ready to jump back into experiencing this conflict" after much needed "breathing and thinking space" that his time away from the West Bank allowed. And as a dancer and student choreographer with the Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre, dance has become an additional way to consider his experience in the West Bank. Ming recalls working with Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin at a summer dance intensive at Duke University and recognizing the way Naharin uses the movement of bodies as "an embodiment of conflict."

But Ming is quick to insist—with a deep and apparent reverence for the choreographer—that Naharin's intensely ritualistic, masculine work "resists political categories," but that his work "invites rich readings" that transcend obvious statements. It's clear that in Ming's choreography he seeks to achieve a similar aesthetic. Of, "Oh!" the piece that Ming calls an "absurdist response to Obama's election," he hopes audience members will see it as "political, but not obvious." He adds, "Like, Ohad [Naharin]."

Performance has infiltrated Ming's academic life in an essential way. He draws connections between story and performance, conflict and approaches to understanding. Ming doesn't want to give away too much information about his senior thesis project, but will say that the piece is a work of performance art that attempts to "imagine families" affected by conflict. Ming will be staging several workshops of a play whose name he wants not to disclose. It's a play that, "in so few words raises so many issues: families, loyalties, violence, stories we tell ourselves and each other."

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