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Flash Dispatch, 1-27: Pieces from Africa
Plastic-Wrapped Temptation and Other Juicy Tidbits form a Body Dialogue

By Sarah Carlson
Copyright 2007 Sarah Carlson

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso -- Contemporary dance was the featured discourse at Dialogues de Corps (Body Dialogues), a two-week long international dance festival held here last month. In its sixth year, the festival offers a packed performance series, classes, video screenings, live music, and discussion panels. This season, Dialogues had the special privilege of inaugurating the newly completed Centre de Developpement Choreographique (CDC). Both festival and center are the impressive impetus of Salia Sanou and Seydou Boro, two prominent Burkinabe choreographers who envision exciting future possibilities for dance-making in Africa. The variety of works that graced the festival stage demonstrates that a solid foundation has already been laid.

Compagnie Salia ni Seydou, directed by the aforementioned founding fathers, baptized the new theater with "Un pas de cote" (A step to the side), an evening-length collaboration with French composer Jean-Pierre Drouet. In silence, a herd of nine performers entered the space moving as one in quixotic walking patterns, a tumbleweed caught up in a chaotic wind. Eventually dancers and musicians separated out dispersing their respective ways, but even as the players took up their instruments on the sidelines, a palpable connection remained. Music and motion rode the same energetic current, conversing fluently as if born of the same breath. In an amusing dialectic exchange, musicians entered and exited the dance space at will, sometimes actively directing the movement from the visible off-stage, sometimes stealing the focus with dramatic face play of their own. A hollow TV, a pair of crimson stools, and a chalk-filled head sock provided fodder for intriguing imagery, but were mostly accentuated distractions in an otherwise satiating ensemble. Salia and Seydou weave a mesmerizing blend of African and modern dance into seamless kinetic ingenuity that is masterfully performed by their company of five. Drouet's post-modern accompaniment partnered the dance so perfectly that when the musicians physically joined the dancers, their interplay was only another layer of an already mature relationship. A delightful 'side-step' away from traditional onstage interactions, "Un pas de cote" becomes a powerful metaphor for the dynamics of creative collaboration.

Stripped of color and pretense, "Pour en finir avec moi" (Getting over me) offered a moving self-assessment from Tunisian artist Radhouane El Meddeb. Captivating from the start, the work radiated with striking minimalism and magnetic earnesty. With his back to the audience in frumpy, plain sweats, El Meddeb inched sideways across a white hallway of light, each move endowed with almost sacred significance. Executed with prolonged precision, the crossing was simultaneously exposed and hidden, painstakingly well-considered and yet disarming in its humility. Impossibly expansive reaches sank to fallen-chested despair and timid points of pensive posturing. A melancholy score for piano and violin (uncredited in the program) added further emotional flavor as the dancer turned at last to face the audience and the white confines of the space opened up. Vascillating between strength and weakness, boldness and insecurity, hope and despair, El Meddeb appeared like a sensitive child who engages and retreats with tortured hyper-awareness. An actor recently turned dancer/choreographer, he uses theatricality to his advantage, engaging physical and dramatic elements with equal power. At once gripping and tender, "Pour en finir avec moi" walked a fine line between sincerity and melodrama and succeeded with ease.

Very promising South African artist Nelisiwe Xaba brought the house down with her brilliant "Plasticization." Describing the work in a program quote as a commentary on the nature of intimacy in a materialistic world, Xaba constructs a clever character who encapsulates her critique with dead-pan wit and charm. Wearing a plastic (Playboy?) bunny mask, a plastic dress, plastic surgeon gloves, a ballet slipper and tights on one leg and a high heeled pump with fishnets on the other, she incarnates a physical amalgamation of all she is preaching against. Never has the voice of social conscience been so simultaneously curious and alluring! Entering through the audience, Xaba's bunny temptress takes advantage of the opportunity to settle down on the laps of unsuspecting spectators, gracing them with passionate kisses through a plastic veil. Once she's onstage, the strangest of stripteases ensues. The plastic dress unwraps into a plastic shopping bag into which our sex bunny disappears entirely, descending quite literally into packaged consumerism. Verdi, Bach and Mozart masterpieces wash over the transformation, a bulge here, a protruding leg there, resulting in a riotous neo-classical romp in the 'hay.' At last, a contorted climax brings release and off comes the ballet stocking, which is then delicately tied in mock post-coital condom fashion. Xaba remains anonymous throughout, never removing her mask; true touch is non-existent in the plastic-wrapped world she inhabits. Rarely has such poignant criticism been so cleverly couched. Look out David Parker, here comes Nelisiwe Xaba!

Sarah Carlson received an MFA in Dance from the University of Washington with a focus on sacred dance and ritual expression. She has been a contributing dance writer for Gay City News and the Dance Critics Association newsletter, and was the dance editor for Offoffoff.com in 2002-2003. In 2006, she was awarded a Fulbright Grant to study Vodou ritual dance in Benin.


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