Radouan Mriziga @ NYLA Live Ideas
Circles and dance are inseparable. Think of classical ballet: the turning, the sweep of the arms, the running formations. Think of the mass circling together of so many cultural folk dances, or the noticeably large amount of contemporary performance that consists of people running in circles.
Move your arm, your head, your pelvis, your toes: every joint must necessarily move circularly (if imperfectly, then describing a curve at least). Precise linearity in human movement is practically impossible. Even walking forward requires a series of rotations in the joints of the legs, and anyway the earth is round, so, still… To move is to circle.
“When you ask to a child to dance, one of the things it nearly immediately does is turning,” said Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, in her hardened yet gentle way.
In 2011, I saw De Keersmaeker drawing a circle with her dance, performing her iconic solo Violin Phase in MoMA’s On Line performance program. There was positioned in MoMA’s central Atrium a square sandpit, in which De Keersmaeker traced, with her sweeping and brushing strides, an ornate rose-compass design in the sand. The dance was finished when the circle pattern was complete.
In 2016, Radoaun Mriziga reminiscently draws a circle in his dance -55, presented as part of New York Live Arts’ Live Ideas program. Mriziga is a Moroccan dancer, a student of De Keersmaeker’s school P.A.R.T.S in Brussels, also having performed with De Keersmaeker’s company. There’s no disguising the influence, but his performative approach is where distinctions can be observed.
-55 could be divided into two halves; the first a solo of sectional gestural movements that delineate space (Mriziga’s choreography revealing someone equally influenced by Judson post-modernism and Moroccan folk-dance), the second a more tangible mapping of the space with chalk and long white strips of electrical tape.
Mriziga places an emphasis on “being a merely executive body,” “a functional body” whose act of performance finds value in the practical application of labor. This philosophy has motivated many dance artists, particularly those affiliated with P.A.R.T.S. Again, it is in how Mriziga chooses to perform his particular industriousness that a possible signature resides.
Unlike other “functional body” performers, whose eyes are often fixed machine-like towards their intention, Mriziga greets his audience, who are seated on four sides, with a friendly gaze, returning smiles and allowing his body a relaxed pedestrian composure. The tics and quirks of his physicality aren’t stripped away. This is in direct contrast with De Keersmaeker’s more strictly arranged body. The carriage of her arms and ribs are made grander with her prouder expansion and fiercer whip-crack speed, while Mriziga’s casualness is his greatest charm.
Once Mriziga starts to mark out the design on the floor, movements that were introduced in the first half become instruments of measurement that help him establish equal distances or perfect circles (the elbow acting as a compass point to the chalk in hand for example), and this recognition of the dance-becoming-functional, of completing a circuit between both halves, is undoubtedly gratifying.
Mriziga’s focus, at first so inclusive of everyone, hones in on his floor-bound task, and we similarly follow his lead. We lean in, taking keener interest in the larger plan unfolding. Mriziga’s purposefulness eliminates any pressing need to question him because we can foresee where this is going; his industry has a direct goal, albeit a familiar one. Yet we are irresistibly, maybe placidly, hypnotised by the all-seducing power of the circle, and this dually lulls with its familiarity while entrancing with timelessness.
The subtitle for the Live Ideas festival, co-curated by Tommy Kriegsmann and Adham Hafez, is MENA/Future – Cultural Transformations in the Middle East North Africa Region. To make the connection between De Keersmaeker and Mriziga’s works is no stretch. But a shift of focus is taking place here – perhaps incidentally on Mriziga’s behalf, more directly from the curation – from the Euro-centric towards the more subjugated Middle East, where as Hafez puts it “artists are kept outside on the border, with dying knowledge in their every undulating spine, centuries before Paxton.” Mriziga’s inviting performative approach, in opposition to De Keersmaeker’s formality, is perhaps evidence of a more politically charged distinction, however subtle.