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For Leila Awadallah, the Mediterranean Sea is more than just a body of water.

It's also a barrier that separates diasporic communities from their homeland, symbolizes death for people fleeing places like Syria and Libya and touches on occupied territories. Conversely, the water metaphorically represents fluidity and freedom of movement.

The 29-year-old dancer and choreographer has channeled that sadness and hope into creating a mythology about an imagined character called Terranea, named for the spirit of the water that gathers all those who were lost in the Mediterranean Sea and offers a home for them beneath the waves.

"Terranea: Hawakatia of the Sea" began as her solo work, but it has grown into a collaborative one with her sister, Noelle.

"We were kind of exploring the same thing in our separate work," said the 27-year-old Noelle, referring to themes of their mixed Palestinian heritage, diaspora and home. "In this past season, we've found a nice balance and to fill in gaps of each other's histories or memories."

The Awadallah sisters were in a sunny dance studio in Minneapolis' Northrup King Building last month working on changes before the rest of the dancers joined them for rehearsals of "Terranea." The work will be performed at Red Eye Theater Thursday through Saturday and then travel to Dearborn, Mich., and Chicago.

Leila and Noelle, who are currently based in the Twin Cities, were born along with their two brothers to an American mother of Sicilian heritage and a Palestinian father, who emigrated from Beit Jala in the West Bank in his 20s, and grew up in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The sisters' company, Body Watani, began as Leila's project and now she and Noelle collaborate together on it, complementing their different dance training backgrounds. Noelle has more of an improvisational background. "I have more of a choreographic brain," Leila said.

Leila volunteered at the Beirut International Platform of Dance Festival in 2017 and subsequently started traveling to Lebanon on a regular basis. She has been to the West Bank, including the time when she performed with the St. Paul-based Ananya Dance Theatre.

Her travels have included visits to North Africa, and that was the first time she saw the Mediterranean Sea from the African side. She has also spent time with Palestinian refugees in southern Lebanon, who talked to her about their yearning for a homeland across the sea.

The conversations had a profound impact on her. "I was very sad. I was thinking about the sea as a mass grave," said Leila, a residency artist at three thirty one, a program created for racial minorities to develop their work.

The sadness, however, did not leave her feeling defeated. She was inspired to use the Mediterranean as a metaphor to symbolize the longing for a displaced homeland.

Along with her collaborator Romy Lynn Attieh, who co-authored the mythological back story, Leila built the character of Terranea, which has two mothers.

"One mother is from Western Sahara, and one is from Palestine," Leila said. In the work, she wanted to explore ways that home stays in a person's body.

The piece unfolds episodically. One theme incorporated into the work is the concept of "stuckness," where the body gets cut off from moving freely. Conversely, the piece explores moving through water, and what can be learned from fluidity.

And Leila knew something about that from personal experience. Three years ago, she was an underwater weed picker. The experience taught her how it felt to be outside of gravity and what it was like to breathe underwater.

"For four months every day, I woke up and put on my scuba gear, and was pulling weeds in the bottom of the lakes in Minnesota," she said.

The choreography for "Terranea" draws on Tai Chi, which Leila practices every day, and traditional Arabic dances.

"I'm not an expert in any of them, but they've been starting to find their voice inside of a contemporary dance shape," she said.

'Terranea: Hawakatia of the Sea'

Where: Red Eye Theater, 2213 Snelling Av. S., Mpls.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat.

Tickets: $15-$50,