By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 12 FEBRUARY 2013 Rachid Ouramdane is a young French
choreographer of Algerian origin, who, prior to founding his company, LA,
in 2007, trained at the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine dAngers.
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.
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 Ouramdanes 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
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