Bouchra Ouizguen talks about Ha! for Crossing the Line

Moroccan choreographer Bouchra Ouizguen explores madness and more in her new Ha! for Crossing the Line

Bouchra Ouizguen presents Ha!, as part of the Crossing the Line festival

Bouchra Ouizguen presents Ha!, as part of the Crossing the Line festival Photograph: Courtesy of the company

In a follow-up to Madame Plaza, Moroccan choreographer Bouchra Ouizguen reunites with three traditional Aïta singer-muses for Ha!. The production is part of the 2013 Crossing the Line festival, of which the line-up includes choreographers Boyzie Cekwana, Nora Chipaumire and Pascal Rambert. In anticipation of the performances at New York Live Arts, Ouizguen talked about making Ha!, investigating madness and strengthening the bond with her performers.

Bouchra Ouizguen brings a tantalizing bit of Morocco to New York. As her follow-up to Madame Plaza, the choreographer reunites with three traditional Aïta singers and dancers for Ha!, which explores madness and healing rituals, inspired by trips made to villages surrounding Marrakech. In Arabic, ha means “yes”; for Ouizguen’s production, part of the Crossing the Line festival, the word also refers to the sounds of breath and laughter. Ouizguen spoke about the piece from Marrakech.

Time Out New York: Could you talk about the inspiration for this piece?
Bouchra Ouizguen:
The work was mainly inspired by the performers. I’ve been working with them for five years now. There was a desire to renew this process of working together.

Time Out New York: They were in Madame Plaza. What is your history with them? How did you meet? 
Bouchra Ouizguen:
This encounter was motivated by my desire to create for a group. My previous work was mostly solos or duets. It was hard to cast a group of performers, especially in Morocco, because there are not a lot of them. I went looking for singers in cabarets, and eventually I found my team in my hometown of Marrakech. The creation and the inspiration of my work doesn’t end with an audition. I really have to enter into a collaboration.

Time Out New York: What did you mean when you said that there were not many performers in Marrakech?
Bouchra Ouizguen:
There are not a lot of dancers in modern and contemporary dance, because it’s a very new field in Morocco. The first initiatives originated 15 or 20 years ago, and the focus is mostly on traditional Moroccan dance or hip-hop, so it’s still a burgeoning scene and therefore there aren’t a lot of schools or any kind of education about dance in general. There is a small group of professionals between Casablanca and Marrakech who are all familiar with each another, but mostly the people that you can find who are dancing are from the street, and it’s very inspired by a hip-hop scene. So people are learning on the job and experimenting, but without any guidelines. There are people, but you really have to find them outside of any institutional form. You cannot just do a casting in one day—you really have to spend time with them and try to learn things from each another before you decide to actually create a show.

Time Out New York: What was your point of departure for Ha!? Was it inspired by a voyage?
Bouchra Ouizguen:
I like this word voyage; it’s always related to the creation of new forms. So a voyage was the starting point. We adopted a nomad approach and went to visit villages all across Morocco—especially three villages where there are soul healers and dance-and-song rituals. There were no studio rehearsals. The studio thing really came at the end. It’s been five years that I’ve worked this way, mostly in external spaces, outside of studios, outside of the institutions. The rituals we witnessed, which were [told through] dance and song are the inspiration for the voyage. We sat at small cafés and watched the life of the city.

Time Out New York: In what region were the villages that you traveled to?
Bouchra Ouizguen:
The three villages visited were in the surroundings of Marrakech. At first, there was supposed to be only one journey to see the rituals, but then I really pushed the budget and made the time to experience more, because every village has a different ritual. In the village where we principally stayed, they only healed women.

Time Out New York: How do you transfer such a rich experience to the stage?
Bouchra Ouizguen:
There is a lot of intuition in the process. In my last show, Madame Plaza, I mostly focused on traditional and ancestral songs. Here, what was interesting about the rituals were the breathing actions and the vocal work. There is repetition and echoes—this breathing action provokes a vibration in the space. It was really a lot of work to re-create this sound and sonic universe; I had to reinvent this ritual for the four performers. It’s almost a sociological ritual; some healers also have to deal with mental issues. It was more a conception of, what is madness? How do you deal with it? We took a personal approach to the notion of madness. Madness as the thing that is inserted between what you can control and what is out of reach.

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