Compagnie Nacera Belaza
Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church
September 17–19, 2009
Reviewed by Susan Yung
Nacera and Dalila Belaza in
Le Cri. Photo by Laurent Phillipe, Courtesy Danspace Project.
Nacera Belaza uses the basic tools of the theater to craft the intense, reductivist Le Cri, co-presented by Danspace Project and the French Alliance’s Crossing the Line festival. Movement is confined to a limited range of motion that builds glacially, allowing music, lighting, and dance to play equal roles in the performance.
Belaza and her sister, Dalila Belaza, stand in darkness, backs to us. We hear birds, then children in the distance, but it’s unclear whether these sounds are live or recorded. The dancers (wearing loose lavender clothes) begin rocking side-to-side almost imperceptibly. They make tiny direction shifts until they face us, the energy eventually transmitting into their twisting torsos, swinging arms, and swiveling heads. Building to a state of frenzy, their arms occasionally fly overhead or bend at the elbow then proceed to fling, carve loops, or gesture as if in presentation with increasing speed and force.
As their movement crescendoes, the atmospheric lighting (by Éric Soyer) brightens, and the music—parallel tracks of a jazz standard and humming that becomes a chant—amplifies. The women, until now in sync, become so focused on their own internal rhythms that their movements diverge briefly. A rapturous smile eases onto Nacera’s face; Dalila’s eyes crack open for the first time. After reaching a deafening volume, the chant stops; the pair moves downstage and a classical aria begins. They now move slowly, as if drugged, and freeze like statues, arms raised as the light and music dwindle.
They start again, rocking upstage, the soprano’s majestic voice flooding the church as the movement accelerates, their arms now flung ear high. In jarring contrast, a recording of Amy Winehouse comes on and the dancers move toward us in a fury of lunges and slashing arms. A video of ghostly images of the pair flashes onto the wall. Sharpening in focus, it appears to be a lifeless version of what we’ve just witnessed. A brassy spiritual plays, and the video speeds up so their movement is just a blur. We are left with a pure, obsessive phrase that elicits ecstasy for the performers despite the clashing of old and new cultures.