The Irresistible and Mind-blowing Wave of Nacera Belaza
Review by Yann Perreau
It starts with a music loop, a hypnotic sound that fills REDCAT’s darkened theater. From this obscurity forms slowly emerge, four bodies turning on themselves, as if in a trance. They are dancing to the beats and the whispers of this repeating sound. They seem to be the music. They turn on themselves—sometimes uniformly, sometimes apart—as if each of them had found a specific axis to twist around. Hips, backs, heads, and necks wildly circle from top to bottom and bottom to top. Arms, hands, and fingers gracefully follow the general movement, drawing invisible shapes in the air. At this stage, the audience is concentrated. Everyone is mesmerized, barely breathing. L’Onde (The Wave) by Nacera Belaza grabs you by the guts. A wave is being created in front of your eyes by these dancers, getting bigger and bigger as it goes back and forth. At the same time, it is moving on a parallel plane. The dancers are on their backs, barely lit by a ray of light from the ceiling. Then it’s dark for five seconds, and they are right there, just before you. How could they have moved so quickly while still immersed in their movement?
Inspired by the ritualistic dances of Algeria, where Belaza was born in 1969, L’Onde is probably the most personal of her creations to date. Moved to France when she was five, she taught herself to dance, she explains, as a means to unravel the complexity of a dual cultural background and to liberate her body from cultural constraints. Belaza describes her work as her inner journey, an “introspective vertical dive.”* Dance is, first, self-discipline. Patience and rigor are required, but also authenticity. The body, the gestures, the breathing can’t lie. If you’re not sincere, it won’t work. “To free yourself,” she says, “you must be right, accurate, and precise. You must defy complacency and seduction.”
Belaza regularly tours in Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America, performing in festivals and venues around the world. She is an associate artist to the Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris and the MC93 in Bobigny. In a discussion with philosopher Etienne Klein, she describes her approach.** Paradoxically, it is inertia, not movement, that she requires from her dancers: “It is a question of defusing everything that usually moves you—will, desire, etc.—to leave room for the imagination. Giving way physically and mentally, with everything we usually invest in our own body, to drive other motors.” L’Onde brings you to a parallel universe, where the “din of our existences,” as she puts it, is silenced. At the same time, you feel you could almost touch the unbearable lightness of life.
** Nacera Belaza and Etienne Klein in conversation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngiMSQUEHtk
Nacera Belaza, L’Onde (The Wave), October 19, 20, and 21, 2023, REDCAT, Los Angeles, performed by Paulin Banc, Mohammed Ech Charquaouy, Océane Valence, and Belaza.
Choreography, sound design, and light design by Nacera Belaza.
Photographs (4) by Angel Origgi, courtesy and © the photographer and REDCAT.