Bouchra Ouizguen

Hear Morocco in Madame Plaza.

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SONGBIRD The women of Madame Plaza light up the stage.

SONGBIRD The women of Madame Plaza light up the stage. Photograph: Hibou Photography

Bouchra Ouizguen, born in Ouarzazate—a city in southern Morocco known as "the door of the desert"—brings an enticing bit of her culture to New York with Madame Plaza, a work for three traditional ata singers and herself.

Bouchra Ouizguen, born in Ouarzazate—a city in southern Morocco known as "the door of the desert"—brings an enticing bit of her culture to New York with Madame Plaza, a work for three traditional ata singers and herself. A copresentation of Crossing the Line and Danspace Project's Platform 2010 ("certain difficulties, certain joy," curated by Trajal Harrell), the production is a "choreo-vocal encounter." Ouizguen—who specialized in Middle Eastern dance before she met and began studying with French choreographers Bernardo Montet, Mathilde Monnier and Boris Charmatz—spoke of the genesis of Madame Plaza with the translation help of a friend on a recent summer night in Marrakech.

When did you start this and why?
Five years ago. It was not a real project—it was a trip through different cities and villages in Morocco to encounter the voices and the women of Morocco. It took me about three years before I decided to do a show. At the time, I preferred to nourish myself by the encounters. I was just looking.

What role has the music you feature in the show played in your life?
From in the womb of my mother, this music was already there somehow. Most of the time the songs are about impossible love from a woman to a man and the difficulties that encompass that kind of relationship, or complaints about life. The music is more of a cry, more of a scream—asking for things. The word ata means "calling."

So how did you find the singers?
I met them once I stopped my trip. I had just had moved next to a nightclub in Marrakech—one of the oldest clubs, where these ladies were performing. It was called Madame Plaza. It's an old nightclub that no bourgeois, no middle-class person would ever put a foot in. They were performing there, so I watched and started talking to them. On the same night I asked one of them, "Could you come and work together next week?" She said yes. We started working together and out of it came a duo.

Did the piece grow from the duet, or did it change completely after you added more women?
I only kept two things from the duo: one song and a rolling on the floor. When the other ladies came to work with me, I had ideas in my head, but I didn't know if it was going to work out or not. The first idea was to do everything a cappella with no instruments. I was thinking, is it possible for the singing and the movement to be present all the time? So the idea was that the words could provoke or enhance the movement. And it would be in a very bare space that is taken over by the bodies. With their presence, they gave me ideas that I didn't have before. They were capable of exchange with me and questioned me about my ideas. They brought humor into it, which I didn't have in my other pieces, but I enjoyed it and it's in there.

What did they teach you about the body?
They taught me to forget about what I have learned. I have trained with choreographers in France and they taught me to break all the rules and do something new. They broke my habits.

What it's like to share the stage with them?
It is immense happiness. Also, I feel alive when I'm on tour with them. Even now I love to watch them do their solos on the stage. I love them because they are the same on the stage and off the stage. I don't see the difference when we are backstage.

Why does Madame Plaza speak to so many people?
I think that it is due to what I was saying before: There is no difference between onstage and offstage. They are not magnificent robot dancers. I think it's because of what they sing—it resembles a lot of crying that is in all cultures. People can connect to these ladies who are fat and who are not dancers. Everybody knows that they are not contemporary dancers. They are not mechanical. The song is the same for people in different parts of the world who are crying for death or crying for love—this kind of vocal expression is common to mankind. And also, fragility is exposed. It has to do with the fragility of the human being.

Bouchra Ouizguen is at Florence Gould Hall Wed 22 and Sept 23.

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