Mario Obeid & Zaria Rajha

Mario Obeid & Zaria Rajha

Mario Obeid & Zaria Rajha

Newcomer dancers look to spread the language of movement

This past June, dancers Mario Obeid and Zaria Rajha introduced themselves to the wider Calgary arts community with their production Error 404, which took place at The Grand’s Flanagan Theatre in downtown Calgary. The contemporary dance show highlights the dancers’ backgrounds, drawing inspiration from their stories to “capture the essence of the diverse human experience.” 

Error 404 is the couple’s first show in Canada, but they have a rich background in dance, having both studied at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Art and performed since they were in their early teenage years in their home country of Syria. Dance played a particularly important role for Obeid, who started out as a breakdancer before diving into other genres.  

“I’m forever grateful for dance because it was really important for Mario in his life — at 14 years old, it saved him from a lot of trouble,” Rajha says. She adds that “when you find something that you’re focusing on, and you really love, it will change your life.” 

Since coming to Canada, the duo embarked on a journey to merge their artistic passion with the demands of life as newcomers. They spend long hours practising outside their day jobs and demonstrated extraordinary dedication by personally investing in Error 404’s establishment. 

Inspiration and expression 

When it comes to the inspiration for their choreography, Rajha often discovers inspiration in her surroundings. “I’m moved by the small details — watching how people move, noticing their reactions, and taking in the sounds around us. It’s fascinating how everything, from human interactions to the simplest aspects of nature, serves as a wellspring of creativity for me.” Obeid also emphasizes the importance of stories, both their own and those of others, saying that people’s struggles, happiness, grief and the entire range of human emotion, serve as inspiration. 

These inspirations come together to inform their artistic practice, which focuses on contemporary dance with influences from styles such as Gaga techniques, and the blending of traditional and modern dance forms. “We try always to mix a lot of styles at the same time,” says Obeid. This mindset leads them to constantly experiment with new dimensions of artistic expression, like taking classes in mime and gestural technique, or attending a puppetry workshop. 

An image of Mario Obeid and Zaria Rajha performing on stage
Photo: Jared Tobias Herring
Future Aspirations 

As they work on a research project alongside a fellow newcomer artist from Russia, they are looking at ways to further develop Error 404 Dance Collective and establish their own distinctive style. Moreover, they aspire to share and teach their unique artistic approach, aiming to take their performances on a worldwide tour. 

The two hope to get more space and time to play around “to develop a certain kind of language between each of us and to understand each other more through our bodies,” Rajha explains. Similarly, Obeid hopes to expand that dance language, making it accessible to all, regardless of body shape or age. Putting technique aside, he says that at the end of the day, dance is about moving and connecting with your body. 

An image of Mario Obeid and Zaria Rajha on stage crossing arms as they dance
Photo: Mike Tan