Santa Barbara Dance Theater; Photo by Brandon Whited
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Impressions of Bouchra Ouizguen’s Ha!

Impressions of Bouchra Ouizguen’s Ha!
Erin Bomboy/Follow @ErinBomboy on Twitter

By Erin Bomboy/Follow @ErinBomboy on Twitter
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Published on October 3, 2013
Performers in Bouchra Ouizguen's Ha!. Photo by Ian Douglas.

New York Live Arts

Co-presented with the French Institute Alliance Française ‘s 2013 Crossing the Line Festival

September 28, 2013

Artistic Direction by Bouchra Ouizguen

Performed by Bouchra Ouizguen, Kabboura Aït Ben Hmad, Fatima El Hanna, Naïma Sahmoud

Lighting Design by Jean Gabriel Valot

Erin Bomboy is @ErinBomboy on Twitter


Ha! revisits the same ingredients that made 2010’s Madame Plaza a success.  Motivated by her recent travels in and around Marrakech, Moroccan choreographer Bouchra Ouizguen creates her work in external spaces that exist independently from conventional studios and institutions. Ha!, Moroccan for yes and the sound of laughter and breath, reflects this outsider approach.

Episodes of ritualistic beauty bookend the piece. Beginning and ending in a void of inky darkness, arrhythmic and growling tones boomerang throughout the theater. These vocalizations sound unearthly, but they soon merge into trembling cadences as the stage illuminates in measured increments.

Performers in Bouchra Ouizguen's Ha! Photo by Ian Douglas.Performers in Bouchra Ouizguen's Ha! Photo by Ian Douglas.

Our eyes make out four crouched female figures wearing white head wraps, wailing and bobbing their torsos back and forth. A plaintive melody throbs as the quartet trudges about the stage, pumping their arms vigorously.  These winding paths and physical and vocal litanies suggest a ceremonial march. In fact, Ha! closes with the foursome slogging off stage in a ragged parade, their rasping intonations echoing through the darkness.

The middle lacks these slow-moving, trance-like rites. Madness, with its inappropriate outbursts and discomfiting displays of emotion, is a point of inspiration for Ha!. Ouizguen (she is self-taught in Moroccan Oriental dance and has studied contemporary choreographic practices in France) fashions brief studies emphasizing hysteria and melancholia. She and her three performers twirl their hips provocatively, coil on the floor, and waver in silence, interrupted by bursts of sharp laughter.  These scenarios, built around walking, stillness, and pedestrian gestures, fail to evoke the broiling intensity of madness.

Performers in Bouchra Ouizguen's Ha!. Photo by Ian Douglas.
Performers in Bouchra Ouizguen's Ha! Photo by Ian Douglas.

Ouizguen’s fellow performers are calm, middle-aged Aïta singers.  Cabaret vocalists, Aïtas live at the margins of society, reputations smeared by their association with seedy nightclubs.  These women, powerful in their chanting and singing, are not dancers. Their lack of trained grace should be an asset in a work about lunacy and alienation, yet they seem indifferent to the possibilities of physical liberation: Controlled nonchalance marks their every movement. 

These three Aïta muses clearly inspire Ouizguen. She has worked with them for five years, and their personal bond is evident. This comfortable bonhomie turns the table on us.  We are the outsiders — we don’t understand their language or the jokes they share.  

At a little over thirty minutes, Ha! doesn’t function like a traditional Western dance piece. Instead, it feels like an exotic and sometimes perplexing postcard from Ouizguen to us, testifying to alternative viewpoints and methodologies.

Performers in Bouchra Ouizguen's Ha! Photo by Ian Douglas.Performers in Bouchra Ouizguen's Ha! Photo by Ian Douglas.

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