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Pesanteur de femmes

23 Sep

By Aktina

When I was in the National Theater of Greece, Andrei Schoukin, a movement instructor from the Vachtangov School of Moscow, gave us an exercise: take an object, study it, and create a movement piece with it. I chose a frame, about the size of a cupboard and created a pretty elaborate piece where I would slide through it, swirl it around with my feet, climb over it and so on. After I presented it to him, hoping to impress him, he said, no, that’s not what we’re looking for. I want you to honestly explore your object; study it; discover it; play with it to see what it can do, how it can move or stand, how you can hold it, all the different ways you can simply relate to it. It is about the object, it is about the relationship, it is not about you or your dance skills.

This story came to my mind last night, as I watched Moroccan choreographer Bouchra Ouizguen’s Madame Plaza at the Alliance Francaise. A piece of contemporary dance, with four female dancers of all shapes, sizes and ages, weaved together with the tradition of Aita song and dance, an exploration of movement, a reinvention of what the body can do, how it can relate, how it can express itself, how it can feel, outside of stylistic norms or boundaries. A piece that allows the spectator to see bodies moving, turning daily life into movements without any preconceptions about beauty, style or meaning.

The tone is set from the very beginning: the four women seated on three divans suggesting domestic interior, dressed not in theatrical costumes but in everyday clothes, take a series of poses of daily ease and relaxation: lying on their side supporting their heads on the hand, crossing legs leisurely, lying face down, then slowly sliding from the divan to the floor. There is absolutely nothing pretty or “dancy” to the sequence. The sense of rhythm, the slowness by which the women change positions, the silence, the way movement and stillness are orchestrated, create an imperceptible choreography conveying the slow passing of time [what an immediate contrast to the hectic rhythm of the city outside the theater, of all these audiences, including us, rushing to the last minute to see the performance!], the Mediterranean heat that slows things down, the household boredom as the women “melt” in time and into the floor.

The whole piece consists of sequences of relations between the four women- quarrels, prayers, desires, courtships. In these, the bodies explore themselves and one another, they explore their own possibilities and effects: the sound the feet make when they stomp, the women rejoicing in their own sound; a smile as a younger woman dances freely in a space seemingly contained between two older women; bodies that roll on the floor and on one another in the sound accompaniment of their own murmur growing louder and louder. Bodies, voices and facial expressions come together and then apart, on, under, behind, with one another, at all times inconsiderate of how they look [forget about body lines, angles, any of the modern dance rules and aesthetics], yet fully devoted in the moment that gives birth to each movement, to each next relationship.

The conscious break with a modern dance aesthetic- although the piece is presented as modern dance- makes it a challenge to come up with a set of criteria to evaluate a performance like Madame Plaza [I am looking forward to reading how dance critics will approach it]. Fortunately, the piece defies classification- not modern, not postmodern, not folk [how liberating that feels, to see something that one does not have to measure by a certain category, a certain set of criteria, and can enjoy for just what it is!]. Where the modernity of the piece lies, in my view, is not in the movement vocabulary itself, but in the handling of time, rhythms, music and silence and in the reintegration of live singing, speech, theatrical elements and dance in a new set that is neither pure theater, nor dance nor folk spectacle [interestingly a similar, though stylistically entirely different reintegration of text, dance and theatricality we saw last year in Moroccan-Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Orbo Novo at the Joyce]. Therein also lies the cultural identity of the piece offering a really viable answer to the question of bridging modernity with traditional elements and cultural specificity without compromising either [a long time problem of intercultural creations as well as postcolonial societies]. The piece’s rootedness to a culturally specific locality is manifested predominantly on something as intangible as the perception of time, slowness and rhythm, which is so central in Madame Plaza. This together with a dialectical composition of elements- traditional, quotidian, abstract- make the piece a contemporary piece of work for an international stage.

Madame Plaza is part of FIAF’s Crossing the Line Festival and is co-presented with Dancespace project. Performances on September 22nd and 23rd at the Alliance Francaise.