Bouchra Ouizguen, Compagnie O, Corbeaux

Posted: August 11th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Bouchra Ouizguen, Compagnie O, Corbeaux

Bouchra Ouizguen, Corbeaux, Serpentine Pavilion, July 14

Bouchra Ouizguen’s Compagnie O in Corbeaux (photo: Hasnae El Ouarga)

The idea of performing Bouchra Ouizguen‘s dark, brooding Corbeaux (crows) as part of this year’s Shubbak Festival in Francis Kéré’s light, airy 2017 Serpentine Pavilion in Kensington Gardens is a symbiotic one. Kéré conceived the structure with its curved blue walls made of stacked triangular assemblies of timber and an orange canopy roof as an ‘architectural version of a big tree’ in Gando, his home town in Burkina Faso, where villagers would use its shade as a locus for activities. Both the Pavilion and Ouizguen’s choreography are a form of gathering; Kéré has built a congenial space for people to congregate in the heart of London, while Ouizguen has built a work for an outside space inspired by the collective behaviour of crows. The audience assembles like villagers underneath Kéré’s tree, standing with their backs to its airy walls, watching Ouizguen’s women — ten Moroccan performers and eight London-based — enter slowly, one by one at intervals in the dark. Once in place, they perch upright in triangular patterns in relation to each other and to the audience. Dressed in black with white headscarves, they stand motionless with eyes closed until the last woman joins the group. The stillness and silence are then suddenly broken by an eruption of visceral chanting wrenched from the abdomen up to the throat of each woman. It is not age but experience that shows in their faces and a fierce insistence that drives the rhythmic pulse of their gestures. They remain rooted to the same spot throughout this atavistic ritual and it is the subtle differences in the power these women generate in their gestures that attune our eyes to ‘hear’ the force of their voices.

Based on early Persian literature, the performance shares the investment in repetitive movement typical of Sufi dance in an attempt to transcend physicality by fully embracing and expressing corporeality. Here Ouizguen’s performers achieve a similar effect through harnessing the repetition of their piercing, guttural cries with the physical rocking forwards and backwards of their heads and necks. Some of the women accent the outbreath and others the inbreath to effect a see-saw rippling of sound that ricochets against the bodies of the audience with contrapuntal force. After twenty minutes, following a hidden pattern of quietus, the performers slowly one by one come to rest till only one continues the wild, rhythmic chant and movement which finally subsides to stillness and silence like the undulations of a pebble on the surface of a lake. Once the surface has settled the women drift out into the night but leave their emotional presence carved into the space of Kéré’s pierced walls.

This is it. There is no narrative, barely a beginning and no apparent end. We are engulfed in sound and the physical force that produces it, like being overtaken by a storm that suddenly arises out of nowhere, expends its energy and moves on; it is closer to nature than to theatre. Ouizguen has stated that Corbeaux is not so much a spectacle but an escape from the traditional mode of production for the stage. “I envisioned Marrakech station with this flock of ageless crows, like a living event, a sonorous sculpture whose power and urgency flows to infinity.” Perhaps Kéré had not envisioned such a gathering under his tree-like pavilion and neither, perhaps, had Ouizguen imagined such a genial space to be the setting of her brooding, sonorous sculpture but it was a bold feat of imagination to put the two together and let them play off each other’s life-affirming qualities.

This UK première of Corbeaux was presented by Shubbak as part of Park Nights, the Serpentine Pavilion’s annual series of summer events in partnership with Serpentine Galleries and Tate Modern. 


Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement

Posted: July 29th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement

Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement, Shubbak Festival, Lilian Baylis Studio, July 6

Mithkal Alzghair, Rami Farah and Samil Taskin in Trio

A pair of black boots alone on the stage before the start of Mithkal Alzghair’s Solo is a bleak image of displacement that has many connotations. When Alzghair enters the stage bearing a neatly folded white sheet in his outstretched arms, places it carefully on the floor before putting on the boots, the images and gestures are stark but full of meaning. Although Alzghair’s references may not be immediately evident to a western audience, he transfers to the spectator his raw experience through the emotional conviction with which he invests each and every movement.

Alzghair grew up in Syria and currently lives in exile in Europe; what he brings to the stage is what his body remembers from its heritage without any overt narrative or political propaganda. In exploring how steps and everyday gestures are transformed by external forms of coercion, Alzghair uses dance as a metaphor for freedom and culture that can be diminished but never erased. His hands behind his back suggest forced restraint, his arms raised above his head denote surrender and his stripping down to his underwear with his jeans around his ankles forewarns of a violence that can only be imagined; as he pivots and falls repeatedly in an attempt to maintain his footing his unbuckled belt thrashes on the floor like a whip. But however repressed and subjugated he may be, he maintains the essential rhythms of the dance throughout. Alzghair connects us to Syria through traces of traditional music and fragments of rhythmic dance steps he and his friends once performed at weddings and other festivities. There are deep, angular steps that surge into the ground to rise up out of it in joy and ecstasy, and small rhythmical foot shuffling like a recitative he maintains throughout Solo; these steps become in themselves an expression of displacement through exile and his unflinching gaze serves to remind us of the pain such upheaval entails. Suddenly Alzghair includes a high military kick that jars our frame of reference; he kneels, bends over with his hands crossed behind him and tries to continue the rhythms on his knees and then in very low, knotted steps until he collapses in a cross-legged heap. He endures and he survives but the past leaves a diminishing trace on the present; now that he is outside his Syrian cultural context, he has to explore the act of physical recollection of what has been left behind. Despite its air of fragility, Solo is a muscular protest against cultural oppression and its concomitant displacement and serves notice that it is culture that defines people before any notion of politics.

The eloquently somber lighting (by Séverine Rième) and everyday clothing are in the same register for Trio, which follows without a pause, resuming the notions of Solo with dancers Rami Farah and Samil Taskin. Alzghair introduces into the reality of displacement the mutual support among a group of friends. The Syrian conflict again becomes the invisible backdrop to the fragility of human life, to notions of home, comradeship and memory that fulminate quietly throughout the work and question our sense of comfort. Yet at the same time the three men embody a profound yet humble humanity that is uplifting. The shuffling foot rhythms of Solo are repeated here but are intimately felt like a bond between the three men rather than performed. To simple dance patterns and solos are added sequences of sotto voce clapping and the linking of arms. The cloth Alzghair brought in for Solo is unfolded by Farah and Taskin and gripped in their fists above their heads, a sacred memory of home, perhaps, against which we see only the men’s shadows. They continue to shuffle in subtly changing patterns creating a sense of uncertainty and trepidation as they weave in and out of the light as if avoiding attention. Alzghair breaks into a folk step that the other two follow and then the trio reforms until the invisible force of coercion makes itself felt once again in ominous gestures of kneeling and collapsing, while the stripping of their shirts gives the men a heightened sense of vulnerability. But the feet keep up the folk rhythms whenever possible as a metaphor for keeping alive in a seemingly hopeless situation. The way Farah makes a ritual of folding up the t-shirts and the white cloth speaks longingly of absence and loss as Alzghair and Taskin whirl around the stage and spin off, a momentary sense of elation and freedom before the three join together on another arduous journey. In terms of gesture there is little to differentiate between movement transformed by external coercion and that transformed by one’s own arduous exertion. The men drop like ripe fruit but help each other up and continue, now dispersing slowly to the edges of the diaspora of the stage as the light dies with a sense of interminably drawn-out time and ineffable space engulfed in crushing silence.

This UK première of Displacement was produced by Sadler’s Wells as part of the Shubbak Festival of contemporary Arab Culture.


Nathaniel Rackowe & Angela Woodhouse, (Un)touched

Posted: July 18th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Installation, Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Nathaniel Rackowe & Angela Woodhouse, (Un)touched

Nathaniel Rackowe and Angela Woodhouse, (Un)touched, Fold Gallery, July 15

Martina Conti and Stine Nilsen in (Un)touched (photo: Noah Da Costa)

Nathaniel Rackowe’s exhibition Threshold at Fold Gallery in Fitzrovia includes some recent wall-based light works and the diptych (Un)touched, a collaborative installation the artist has developed with choreographer Angela Woodhouse. Boundaries are a key motif Rackowe explores by pushing the edges of both form and matter. The wall-based works use fluorescent tubes and coated glass panels whose planes juxtapose and superimpose. Characteristically, Rackowe engages with light not so much as a medium but rather as a means to dissolve the material edges of the panels into transparent and reflective layers of evanescent colour. Echoing Rackowe’s ideas, Woodhouse in (Un)touched interpolates her own investigation of boundaries through movement. Their collaboration has developed over a period of three years and one can feel the maturing of the process in the work’s synergies. Woodhouse has an intuitive ability to find spaces in the choreographic firmament that have not been explored and where collaboration offers new creative possibilities, while Rackowe’s concepts of form, space and light welcome such an approach.

The material framework of (Un)touched consists of two separate structures that take up the central floor area of the gallery. The first is an elongated rectangular grid made of neatly detailed industrial panels of perforated steel and expanded mesh interspersed with ones of coated glass; the second is a low square steel platform covered with reinforced glass on which the audience can stand. The two structures relate to each other as a nave to the apse of a church and the way they both fit into the gallery makes it seem as they were made specifically for it.

Woodhouse interfaces the materiality of these structures with the choreographed movement of two dancers, Stine Nilsen and Martina Conti. The audience is invited to walk around while Nilsen and Conti wander through the maze of intersecting planes as if engaging in a game of silent encounters that are only fulfilled in the mirroring of the dancers’ movements through glass and in their fading reflections. Occasionally they hold the gaze of a member of the audience, so that watching them we experience mutating levels of intimacy that emerge and then recede into a proximity that is never achieved. The sequencing of fluorescent lighting that in turn makes the glass panels transparent (fleetingly bringing dancers and audience into close visual proximity) and opaque (reflecting an image of both dancers and audience back on themselves) intensifies the interplay of presence and absence, of invisibility and appearance. In addition the perforated steel panels create pixelated images of the dancers’ bodies placed behind them, whilst open spaces in the structure reveal the fullness of the body and intermittent blackouts reset our threshold of vision. It is in these multiple views that the full value of (Un)touched emerges and where the visions of Rackowe and Woodhouse meet. The dancers breathe life into the inert structure and partner it through the choreographic journey while the audience becomes an integral part of such a journey through the visual permutations of each change of perspective.

Following Nilsen’s and Conti’s beguiling game in the ‘nave’, after a short pause the audience is invited into the ‘apse’ to congregate around the second structure; the two dancers reappear under the glass, as alive and motionless as fish seen from the surface of the water. Again the fluorescent tubes inside the structure and on the walls above it create changing degrees of transparency through the glass although our perspective is relatively fixed. We are invited to walk on the surface but the sense of standing over the dancers is an ambivalent pleasure as they move lithely beneath us. Because of the limited space under the glass, the intimacy between dancers is physical, sensual, as Conti nestles her head under Nilsen’s arm or Nilsen rolls over to embrace Conti’s shape. The two bodies seem suspended in the changing lights, making their shapes and forms flit between transient beauty and our own figures peering into the glass, our reflections descending to the ceiling. The entire performance challenges our mode of interaction with the subject, from voyeuristic distance to the intimacy of regard and tentative physical communication as Nilsen and Conti rediscover what touch might mean at the edges of proximity. They engage with each other and with the audience in such a calm, ordered way that although there is no musical accompaniment to the performance, the movement and light contain within them an implicit auditory sensation of serenity that reverberates through the small gallery, completing the sensory universe that Rackowe and Woodhouse have created. The applause at the end breaks the reverie and returns us to our reality.