TBA:13: Belaza and Ouizguen meet resistance with dance

One of the fulfilling pleasures of PICA’s TBA:13 were the “TBA Conversations,” opportunities to steal away for a noontime hour or so, and listen as some of the festivals most engaging artists and curators freely discussed their work, their process and their participation in TBA.

On Friday, September 20, Emily Roysdon, TBA visual artist, (who is currently busy engaging “in a laboratory phase for next year’s TBA,” according to PICA artistic director Angela Mattox) sat down with visiting choreographers Bouchra Ouizguen (Morocco) and Nacera Belaza (France/Algeria) for a chat.

Nacera Belaza brought both “Le Cri “and the US premiere of “Le Trait & Le Temps Scelle” to TBA audiences this year, and Bouchra Ouizguen contributed “Ha!,” also a US premiere, to the festival. Roysdon invited Belaza and Ouizguen to simply “speak about [their] work.” Perhaps influenced by the calmly daylit, studio-like atmosphere of the PICA offices and encouraged by Roysdon’s own serenely conveyed curiosity, both Belaza and Ouizguen embarked upon a series of revealing, soliloquy-like responses.

As choreographers, Belaza and Ouizguen share a desire both for freedom to explore movement and to develop their work in environments of relative solemnity and reflection. They encourage us to traverse time, space and spiritual practices to look beyond a life of comfort and materialism. Their work comes to us as a mindful choreographic poetry of movement. Movement that progressively looks at, for, and toward a sense of community and, quite possibly, holds a potential to bring some worthwhile insights by closing the distances between us and our fellows and between us and our bodies, those very bodies that Belaza smoothly comments “are so close and so far at the same time.”

Because they must create work in challenging circumstances where the freedom and opportunity to make dances cannot be assumed and resources can be next to nonexistent, a continuing theme emerges—by discovering “relationships to resistance, any movement is possible”

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Emily Roysdon in conversation with Bouchra Ouizguen and Nacera Belaza/Photo by Gordon Wilson courtesy of PICA

Emily Roysdon in conversation with Bouchra Ouizguen and Nacera Belaza/Photo by Gordon Wilson courtesy of PICA

Coming from a background as a belly dancer, Ouizguen detailed her progression from a young, unpaid dancer, to being able and having the means to establish a studio, and gaining the opportunity to explore dance as a means to a sense of freedom where she could simultaneously “imagine and escape to where there is nothing,” a duality, she said, between death and life.

Ouizguen, at times her eyes and voice searching for the right English words to express herself, spoke of the relevance and importance to her work of resisting the focus on the acquisition of money and the structure of a formal, permanent studio. She said that because she resists a materialistic-based lifestyle, she allows herself infinitely more freedom: “I have nothing,” she says proudly. Nothing to weigh her down and keep her restrained: a life of minimalism and the freedom that comes from living with less. Ouizguen’s intention to live simply and be observant of the life and culture that surrounds her in Morocco is mirrored in dance philosophy: Her dance is powerfully connected to real bodies, to real women, to a real environment.

Ouizguen’s desire for freedom is central to her work. She spoke respect for the timing of all things —of the moment she makes a decision about everything from a movement in her choreography to a place to dance, to a collaboration—the decision, she says, must feel “right” and let her sense a distance between the vitality of life and the finality of death. She must feel drawn into the exuberance of life and intensity. Her work emerges dependent on her sense of knowing what she wants to do and from accepting the unstructured and non-contrived timing she feels is crucial to her performance.

Oizguen said she needs very little to accomplish her intention—to dance and present that performance to an audience, just what will provide for her dancer-collaborators and their travel expenses—and minimal provisions. All else is superfluous, she insisted: Nothing, she says “is spent on clothes nor décor.” Her performances are based on the relationships between time, travel, and the dancers, as she says, “that’s all I need.”

When immersing herself in new work and new choreography, Ouizguen cuts herself off from external pressures. Things as simple as not answering the phone, or turning off internet access become essential and distractions not to be allowed into her creative flux. Instead, she chooses to observe from quiet, personal spaces—a streetside café where she can sit together with her group of dancers and they can discover each other as women, as people, and gather “inspiration from outside”. Ouizguen describes her approach as accepting and enveloping the “different paths inside of each of us.”

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Algerian-French choreographer, Nacera Belaza began the discussion of her work by saying she “create[s] an object that allow[s] the imagination of the audience to go through.” She attempts to put herself in a place and time where she can determine over a period of about one year what her body can understand and then unearth a sense of the rhythm. Belaza spoke movingly of “looking for freedom in a tight space” of how she seeks to reach the same goal but always in different ways.

Belaza said she refuses to “tell stories to people—I don’t want to ….I don’t want to share ideas! I don’t have time to share ideas!” Instead, she said she wants “to share an extreme experience,” an experience where she has “pushed her limits, mental and physical, to share the space.” Belaza said that by looking at her work, “you see everything” and that is one of her goals. T
Recalling her deep love of French literature and a fondness for poetry and philosophy, Belaza revealed that her cultural background (a melding of French and Algerian) does not influence her point of view to a great extent. Instead, she sees her pursuit to develop a capacity to perform a piece with nothing (minimal financial support or final performance locations remaining unknown) as providing her with a certain necessary freedom and as helping her go further with the idea and conceptual development of her work.

With a searching sense of inquiry, Belaza contemplated what she is “resistant” to or what forces and imagery she resists admitting into her thought process as she begins a work. She explained that a tension emerges as a sort of dialogue inside each of us and that one of her choreographic goals is to create this feeling in the audience, a sort of provocative disruption.

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Ouizguen and Belaza both suggest that the only real, authentic way to travel out of any context and gain understanding of the world we live in, is to find community. The community they seek is one that requires one to open one’s self and be willing to travel, either metaphorically or literally, to observe one’s surroundings with care. With such observation, Belaza tells us we have the self-granted ability to “connect to any one, any culture, anywhere.”

Kristan Kennedy’s summation of what this TBA is considering immediately comes to mind: “…It is about this community and that one….the one you belong to, the one you don’t belong to, the one you hope to belong to…..”

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