She was the discovery of the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in 2019 with Le Cercle, a stunning creation in which four dancers went into a trance. Today Franco-Algerian choreographer Nacera Belaza returns with L’Onde. This time her gaze is focused on traditional Algerian dances. How can they be updated without losing their singularity and original value? Dance is often neglected when it comes to cultural heritage. Traditional dances are often associated with the musical context in which they exist, but there is less knowledge and research about their specific movement language. Nacera Belaza delves into audiovisual archives and incorporates her findings in this new production. She carefully moulds a sophisticated choreography, bringing this traditional dance material into relation with the concept of « infinity ». The dancers explore the infinity of space and time until they begin to resonate with one another and unleash a wave of excitement and unrest in the auditorium.
Excerpt from an interview with Nacera Belaza during her creative residence at ICI—CCN
How has the power of rituals, which imbues your work, inspired L’Onde?
I actually spent a lot of time observing and immersing myself in traditional dances that are like rituals. The movement in rituals fascinates me. What makes its constancy? What drives it? What gives it its density and power? What animates it? How do you find the power in these gestures? How do you rediscover their intensity, their inner density that is the whole reason for their existence? I’ve regularly immersed myself in these settings. Last year, I was given access to the archives at the research centre for traditional dance in Algeria. It really inspired me. Then, switching to my own choreographic work, I had to forget all about it and distance myself from a certain literality. Just because I spend two months at the seaside or in the desert doesn’t mean that I’m going to talk about the sea or the desert. It’s more about the way it affects me, what it takes away or what it adds. I don’t allow myself to imitate, I don’t copy; I apply filters. I know that if I let in elements from the outside unaltered, they’re going to distort what I have in me. There are some really lovely dances, but I’m not just going to incorporate them like that. I’m more sensitive to the essence of things than to their form and I’m liberated from the influence of seduction. I prefer meaning and cohesion. Yes, I’ve immersed myself in these dances, but then I start from a vacuum, from the little images I use to make an entire piece.
Tell us a bit about these archives. What specifically caught your attention? What reinforced your interest in the mechanism of rituals?
These archives contain videos, recordings of sounds, music and singing, and written material too. I’ve actually already had the opportunity to see some of the country’s dances in real life. There’s a group I often mention who triggered the process that led to my piece Le Cri (2008). They come from the region of Timimoun and they’re not professional singers or dancers, just men and women, shoulder to shoulder, swaying and singing. It’s literally mesmerising. I always ask myself the question: what’s happening in this tiny movement so that you end up feeling so complete? They’re communing, not performing. They’re listening to their inner state, their mental state is not involved. Watching them on a loop allowed me to grasp a whole load of parameters that I had to try and disconnect. They reach a kind of essence of movement that can continue indefinitely. In it I discovered a strength that has been lost in the dances we do on stage – we want to perform so much that we’ve lost our essence. It’s not a danced movement; it really is a state. Another question that’s stuck with me since then is what could this state construct choreographically if you do your best not to change its nature?
- Interviewed by Smaranda Olcèse in November 2019, ICI-CCN de Montpellier.
Smaranda Olcèse is director, journalist and art critic in the field of performing arts.
Interview with Nacera Belaza
How does this new creation fit in with your earlier ones, and what’s new about it?
I am always really receptive to capturing what’s starting to come alive in me at the end of a piece with the aim of developing it further and continuing it in the next creation. It’s about breaking away from what’s been done, but also continuing it. In Le Cri, for example, I explored the world of the infinite with 8. I felt I was writing this piece vertically. The 8 just amplified, accelerated, penetrated and lifted it at the same time. There’s a brief moment in 8 when we cut ourselves off and all of a sudden it opens up and gives access to a different dimension. But then it closes again very quickly. That brief moment stayed with me. I wanted to explore it. In L’Onde, I added a circle to 8 to explore two infinities. This gives rise to a whole other journey. In all my pieces, I aspire for unity, a relationship with everything, with the other, with letting go… In my previous creation, Le Cercle, one of the challenges was to find unity between five dancers with very different backgrounds and from very different cultures. In L’Onde, once again I’m part of this unity, but in my career I’ve rarely shared the stage with other dancers. I realised that there were degrees of freedom between us that weren’t in harmony. The freedom we aspire to on stage has to be very real; it isn’t a show. You have to question everything in order to succeed in creating the same spaces of resonance in all of us. It’s the work of a lifetime concentrated in a few months of creation.
Repeated movement is never an entirely identical reproduction. How do you welcome the novelty?
There’s greater freedom and intensity. When I started working on repetition during Le Cri, I soon realised that it wasn’t about repeating something in the same place. There’s a significant shift in you. It coincides with the artisan’s gesture taking shape, being sculpted as it’s being repeated. It depends on the ultimate intention that you breathe into the gesture. For my part, I don’t research mastery or trance, but a greater awareness at the same time as letting go. The repetitive movement is just the medium of a powerful desire for freedom. Paradoxically, you have to abandon the body; it represents only a tiny part of what vibrates and rises up in the person.
This dance isn’t danced; it’s no longer about performance. So how do you connect with the audience?
You’re right, we’re not dancing in the sense that we’re not producing movement deliberately. What you see in the body is just the emanation of what is living and vibrating inside, the physical body is the part that gives material form to the invisible as it continues its journey and is projected into infinite space. Not being occupied with doing or producing movement, we make way for everything that escapes us. The danced movement often appears to me to be resistance embellished with everything that would like to escape us. I often notice that the sense you want most from the audience is sight. Wanting to see, seeing well, more than anything it’s about having a grasp of reality. So the performer’s state is crucial. By letting go, he or she has to bring about an openness, a receptivity in the audience to get them to offer themselves up completely. And only then is everything circulated and unified. I know how much the word has been overused, but a real communion can take place.
Your practice blurs the boundaries between interiority and exteriority. What’s the body’s role in this process?
First there’s the inner space that’s infinite; you shouldn’t be afraid of connecting with it. And then there’s the exterior space, which is also infinite. I call this space the second body. Between the two there is the physical body, a sensitive envelope, a receptacle of everything being produced inside and out. That’s how I perceive the body, as a sensitive surface that is endlessly being navigated. It’s not a point of arrival, and even less so a complete image of the being. It’s more uplifting and reassuring to see it as part of a whole. You’re distressed when you’re isolated, when you break into segments; then everything loses its meaning. And this way of upgrading the material and the invisible gives my choreographic material a certain immateriality.
You’re seeking to strip the gesture to access the very essence of the movement. What is this essence?
When movement is no longer a projection of the mind on the body and its source is a profound imagination, it undoes any form of action, tension or resistance. You see it from that moment on, without it actually having a physical reality. It also explains these empty spaces in my more recent pieces, like spaces of resonance. Because I get the sense that when movement reaches this immaterial nature, it’s equivalent to emptiness. It’s as if the imagination was moving. Stripping what is moving from everything projected onto it is a way of striving for what’s essential, a form of disintegration (of ideas, resistance or projections for example) like an inverted sculpture leading back to the self. We live in a society in which the body is, paradoxically, both venerated – turned into a cult – but also relegated to the rank of an object or a possession. I say to myself that in a context like that, it’s the duty of dance to offer different approaches; in the end, perhaps it’s the most metaphysical art form. It opens up our minds and bodies as much as possible and urges us to reconcile our own matter with the invisible.
- Interviewed by Séverine Kodjo-Grandvaux in April 2020 for the Festival d’Automne à Paris.
Séverine Kodjo-Grandvaux is philosoph and assiociated researcher at Laboratoire d’études et de recherches sur les logiques contemporaines de la philosophie at the Paris-VIII University. She wrote several essays and is journalist for Le Monde.
Presentation: Kunstenfestivaldesarts-Charleroi danse
Choreography, sound design, light: Nacera Belaza | Performers: Nacera Belaza, Aurélie Berland, Bethany Emmerson, Magdalena Hylak, Mohammed Ech Charquaouy | Stage management: Christophe Renaud | Production: Compagnie Nacera Belaza | Coproduction: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Charleroi danse, Festival de Marseille, deSingel, Campus International des Arts, MC93 Bobigny, LUMA Foundation, ICI–Centre chorégraphique national Montpellier – Occitanie (Direction Christian Rizzo, dans le cadre du programme résidences de recherche et de création), L’Arsenal-Cité musicale-Metz, Atelier de Paris / CDCN | Supported by: Région Île-de-France (dans le cadre du dispositif d’aide à la création), SPEDIDAM, SACD (dans le cadre du programme duo), Institut français – Ville de Paris, Performances in Brussels in the frame of EXTRA 2020, with the support of the French Institute and of the French Embassy in Belgium | Residencies: ICI–Centre chorégraphique national Montpellier – Occitanie (Direction Christian Rizzo, dans le cadre du programme résidences de recherche et de création), deSingel, Campus International des Arts, MC93 – Bobigny, Parc des Atelier, LUMA Foundation Arles, Atelier de Paris/CDCN | Provision of stage: Points-communs, nouvelle scène nationale de Cergy / Val d’Oise | The company Nacera Belaza is supported by: Direction régionale des affaires culturelles d'Ile-de-France - Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, Région Ile-de-France as part of the artistic and cultural permanence, Institut français, Onda