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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 12 FEBRUARY 2013 — Rachid Ouramdane is a young French choreographer of Algerian origin, who, prior to founding his company, L’A, in 2007, trained at the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine d’Angers. He collaborated with such people as Hervé Robbe and Odile Duboc before creating his first choreography in 2006.

His latest creation, Sfumato, a piece for seven dancers staged at the Theatre de la Ville in November, is centered on people who are victims of climatic change and who are confronted with the loss of their homes, land and livelihood.

This ambitious and highly topical work thus opens on what appears to be the end of the world, upon a dramatic and visually impressive scene of two bodies lying motionless amid ever increasing billows of smoke gusting out and over the stage, onto the audience, until nothing can be seen with even the amphitheatre plunged into darkness. A voice then recites the horrors of climatic change, from the devastation due to forest fires, the incalculable loss of life from the tsunami, the ever rising waters and disappearance of whole regions, as well the havoc and turmoil rent by cyclones, earthquakes, and monster tornadoes.

Gradually a turbulent spinning figure, magnificent Lora Juodkaite, can be seen through the gloom, a voice off saying that when it gets too hot, no one can sleep for fear of a hurricane; people living on the 7th floor are too afraid to return to their homes and are exiled to inhospitable regions. As more dancers enter on stage, so many displaced persons liable to fall into the greedy hands of traffickers promising Eldorado, turning and twisting as if blown by a cyclone, the tableau ends abruptly, giving place to a second spectacular setting of torrential tropical rain. The dancers, giving all they can and soaked through and through, use the water on stage to create large luminous arcs of light, but although the setting is of great visual beauty, the intolerable is also present. These are troubled waters and the image one carries away is that of the destructive power of water.

Some time before creating the work, Ouramdane had visited Vietnam, to a village which was slowly sinking beneath the waters, a journey which made him reflect on all the displaced, rootless people in the world, whether from political upheavals or natural disasters, the latter being the subject of this work. And although he uses videos of displaced elderly people in China in a third and final tableau, concentrating on close-ups of their eyes and faces, this is in no way a documentary, but as one begins to wonder what will happen next, how he will deal with environmental damage and drought, the work comes to an abrupt end. Finish.

The downside to this production, or perhaps its strength as far as Ouramdane is concerned, lies in keeping the spectator at a distance. The audience is not invited to become involved. All emotion has been banished and indeed, talking to Brice Bernier, a dancer who marked the work with extraordinary tormented angular contortions, he explained that the instant an interpreter conveyed the slightest sentiment or feeling, the choreographer stopped him immediately. It was not what he wanted. The spectators look, see, and then walk away not indifferent, but somewhat puzzled, happy to pick up the threads of their own lives.

However, dance continued after the performance with a lesson Bernier gave to six adolescent boys from an agricultural college in Dieppe in the foyer of the theatre. It was quite amazing to see how this tall, graceful man, an adept of hip-hop, get this group of amateurs to reproduce some of the steps used in the work. "I love teaching," the dancer told me, "but I had to make a choice between dance and being a full-time teacher, and dance won." As did Ouramdane’s audacity in staging such a monumental, thought-provoking work at a time when, irony of the sort, the hurricane, Sandy, was ravaging the East coast of the United States.

Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque. She last wrote on William Forsythe.  

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