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Our Executive Director Mirna Zagar introduces French-Algerian choreographer Nacera Belaza, whose work comes to Vancouver for the first time January 27-29 in a co-presentation with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival:
I have been following Nacera Belaza's choreographic journey since 2000, and with each new work she produces (over a dozen to date) I appreciate more and more her very distinctive ways of thinking and moving. Her dance works are of a very different nature to most.
A performance by Nacera’s company invites us to immerse ourselves in a richly evocative world. Regardless of where the company performs, be it at the venerable Sadler's Wells in London, New York’s iconoclastic DanceSpace, or Portland’s risk-taking TBA Festival, Nacera’s work always seems to split audiences. Some leave the show with a strong sense of contemplation and a deep appreciation of having achieved an almost meditative state: others leave surprised, even baffled, by the apparent simplicity of the actions that they were asked to commit to.
I think the truth is that each of Nacera’s works requires attentiveness, and offers us a chance to witness physical ideas, abstract as they may seem, over a longer encounter. Encounters of another world, to be more precise. A world where time almost ceases to exist, in which motion appears to have either the quality of water, an ever-flowing liquidity, or a stillness (and yet it moves). There is a sense of freedom, yet also a sense of confinement at the same time: a contained urgency to emerge, become unstuck, let go. The whisper of movement, the glimmer of light effortlessly transports us into the labyrinths of small alleys, typical of an Arab town. You sense the people behind the high walls, the women in the courtyards and behind the veils, the bustle of what is usually left invisible to an outsider. This labyrinth of time and space takes us into Nacera’s way of thinking, which coexists in the intersection between the traditional and the westernized way of life in France. Born in Algeria, she moved to France at the age of five but has stayed closely connected to Algeria and its traditions, as well as teaching, performing and starting a dance festival there. As a child she was not allowed to practice dance and studied literature at university, not taking her first dance class until the age of 23. She has found her own path, building these experiences into her own distinct language.
Le Temps scellé (The Sealed Time), a duet performed by Nacera alongside her sister Dalila, is a perfect example of her work. Thousands of images pass through our minds as we see the movements slowly unfold, yet not one is singled out specifically. Simplicity is drawn out precisely, through the interplay of light and shadows. It is as if a drawing unfolds in front of us: these lines are precise, moving inward and then outward, from the interior to the surface. The movements are deliberate yet seem improvised as they appear from out of nowhere, disappear into the unknown. There is a story, but it is left to us to interpret. It is indeed poetry in motion, perhaps reflecting Nacera’s study of literature. She sees the body as an envelope which contains space, not only as a form engulfed by space. The formula might be described as release (delivering yourself to the moment); receive (filling the body with the surrounding sound and space); and become (embodying the resulting state through movement).
This approach reminds me of the fundamentals of contemporary dance, and of contact improvisation, except there is no actual physical contact. Nacera resists the natural reaction of the body to rhythm, retaining a dynamic self-control which offers a new dimension in how we perceive the movement of the body through space. It is clear she is very interested in music, especially the sounds of North Africa, and juxtaposes these with echoes of holy rituals and even gospel in an almost Sufi-inspired sensuality. Her dance is in that sense captivating, sensual, twirling; the dancers appear like spirits, as if they have left the stage and gone into another dimension.
My recommendation to a spectator would be to leave your expectations outside and to deliver yourself to experience this strangely beautiful sense of nothingness. Allow yourself to embrace the possibilities on offer, surrender to a sense of infinite time, let go. We can all process our own narratives later! This is work that stays with you for a long time, and in its abstraction it is open to interpretation. The movements we witness are not spectacular. The dancers are not here to impress us, nor even to please us, but make no mistake: there is no intention to mystify, this is an artist who pursues her goals rigorously. Living in a world that is moving faster and faster, where there is no time to stop and reflect, perhaps this could be the moment we simply allow ourselves to be.
Compagnie Nacera Belaza performs Le Temps scellé January 27-29, 2016 at Scotiabank Dance Centre, presented as part of The Dance Centre’s Global Dance Connections series and with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.
Photo credits top to bottom: Laurent Philippe, Antonin Pons Braley.
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