An exciting mixture

An exciting mixture

Elisabeth Ritonja

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June 2022

Bouchra Ouizguen presented a cross-border dance project with her work "Elephant" as part of the Wiener Festwochen.

Bouchra Ouizguen has been part of the touring schedule of cooperation partners in contemporary dance for several years. France and Belgium play a prominent role in this; but the idea of supporting productions across countries is also becoming more and more popular, especially in the festival business in this country.

Although she has now staged her seventh production, she is still a border crosser in contemporary dance. In interviews, she repeatedly says that neither she nor her dancers have had any training in this field. What distinguishes her work, or rather the beginning of her work on this project, is the tracking down of people who still master traditional song and dance forms.

In “Elephant”, Ouizguen has set herself the goal of bringing Moroccan dance and music onto the stage in order to snatch them from oblivion and disappearance. As a metaphor, she has chosen the elephant, which is an endangered species and may already be extinct in the coming century.

Together with three other protagonists – one younger and two older women who have already worked with Ouizguen – she presented the result of her musical and dance search for clues in the programme of the Wiener Festwochen at the Odeon. She intuitively and creatively processes the material she finds into a one-hour piece. A piece that not only reveals the traditional, but also wraps this traditional in a new cloak.

Before her spectacle begins, however, the stage floor is cleaned by two women with large floor rubbing cloths. Then they come on stage – no longer dressed like cleaning ladies, but in festive robes – with two other dancers to clean the space with the help of incense. Here it becomes clear that what will be shown is partly taking place in the ritual realm. And indeed, a dancing creature appears with a colourful headdress, trimmed all around with bright bast strings. Soon it is whirling across the room.

Unlike at the very beginning, the music is not coming from the tape now. Now it is the women themselves who sing live on stage. Polyphonic litanies form the main volume of the musical events. Starting with a female singer, they are echoed by the others and at the same time rhythmised by them with the help of djenbes, small bongo drums. This musical setting remains the same throughout the performance, but the individual danced scenes change. One witnesses a solo performance by the youngest woman, who collapses in exhaustion, whipped up by the music, which gets faster and faster. But the women also perform an impressive group choreography.

It forms the artistic climax of the performance. Designed as a contact improvisation, it is, however, anything but improvised. After pieces of clothing have been pulled offstage – which can be understood as a haunting metaphor of human demise – and the women have intoned a litany of lamentations, the three dancers group themselves into a single organism. They move it through the hall in ever new combinations with the help of lifting techniques. The impression is that they hold each other in their grief and pain and never let each other fall. This is a highly emotional and meaningful scene. It shows people in an exceptional situation that they can only overcome through mutual cohesion. How they connect with each other, let themselves fall into the others, are pulled or pushed by them, how they nevertheless do not go down in their loudly articulated pain, but support and hold each other over and over again, can also be read metaphorically to the highest degree.

The mixture of traditional music and new choreography does not seem artificial at this moment, but quite natural. It enables the audience to think far beyond the dance. The fact that Bouchra Ouizguen’s work almost automatically finds itself in a larger, cultural-historical context also makes her work interesting for other disciplines such as musicology, cultural anthropology or sociology.

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