A Good Fight: Fleur d’Orange Brings Contemporary Dance from Morocco
“I made a decision,” states choreographer and dancer Hind Benali, founder of Fleur d’Orange, a contemporary dance company in Casablanca. “I had to dance and that meant I had to fight.”
This determination, coming from within a culture where women do not dance publicly, took her south to sub-Saharan Africa, rather than the more typical path to France and Europe, for inspiration on how to become a contemporary dancer. Using her African experiences as a springboard, she has taken modern dance to public spaces in Morocco—historic sites, city parks, and theaters -- has founded and produces an international dance festival (one of the very few in her homeland), and teaches and provides a creative home for many of Morocco’s contemporary, beat and hip-hop dancers and musicians.
Whether in solos for herself or in works created with others including non-dance members of the community, Benali takes life’s everyday texture and transforms it. With powerful, intensely charged movement and saturated imagery she chases the inaccessible – a creative space that both honors and challenges society’s paradigms.
For her performances in the U.S. in 2014 as part of Center StageSM, Benali will present IDENTITY/IDENTITÉ, a new evening-length piece of solos and duets. An intimate exchange between artists and audiences, it is dedicated to Benali’s exploration of the circumstances and desires of her life as a woman, a Muslim, an Arab, and a North African. On stage, her beloved roots coexist with cultural ambivalence, the double-edged sword of invisibility, connection to the past, and religious devotion.
IDENTITY/IDENTITÉ is created and performed in collaboration with Franco-Moroccan hip hop dancer, Soufiane Karim. The piece’s soundscape is composed of live and recorded music by multi-instrumentalist Mohcine Imrharn, interwoven with found sounds. Strikingly lyrical calligraphy by artist Yacine Fadhil will be projected on the stage and dancers. Additional video imagery by Benali documents shrines, stories of elderly Moroccans about their youth, and sounds of the traditional markets to conjure and share environments that have formed her life and those of her forbearers.
Center Stage is an exchange program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Exchange programs initiated by the Bureau support U.S. foreign policy goals and engage youth, students, educators, artists, athletes, and rising leaders in the U.S. and more than 160 countries. Center Stage uses the performing arts to support cultural understanding between American and international communities; participating artists experience the U.S. first hand and cultivate lasting relationships.
In exploring the nuances and details of Moroccan lives and transforming them into an intense solo movement piece, Benali hopes to express part of her own struggle to find the golden mean between global culture and local morés and forms. “We can be open to the world without forgetting what we really are,” Benali says.
“I was trained in ballet, but ballet was too technical and my body wasn’t right. I always knew I had to do something different.” Benali discovered the abstract, conceptual edges of contemporary dance in France. Though she savored the wild and unexpected opportunities contemporary dance afforded, she worried they’d never work back home. “I thought I’d have to give all this up, this life of dance, and wind up behind a desk. Or I’d end up going back to Europe to be a dancer.”
Instead, Benali found an unexpected, very different model for creating a new platform and new audience for contemporary dance. She went to her first African dance festival in Burkina Faso. Dancers there were talented, creative, and hardworking, but had little need for the formal training and European-style infrastructure and funding Benali and many artists around her assumed were required to jumpstart the dance scene back home. The dancers she met and collaborated with in sub-Saharan Africa had a wonderful freedom -- the freedom to create, and to use their roots and limited formal training to express themselves without apology or overreaching critique.
“It was a revolution in the way I watched dance. I started asking myself questions about dancers’ training. I was very academic, old school. But the African dancers around me had a traditional dance background and that was enough to prepare them physically, at least, for a professional dance career,” explains Benali. “I wanted to take that approach to Morocco, stop complaining about our lack of money, about our hard mentality.”
As an independent artist without a company of dancers, Benali has focused on collaborations -- primarily on solo and duo pieces, making work with dancers from South Africa and America, as well as Burkina Faso. Drawing on her own life, she tackles the rigid limitations of gender and the images of femininity, struggling with being a practicing Muslim and an open-minded artist who uses her body to express her ideas. Her Other Side, a collaborative piece with American dancer and choreographer Esther Baker Taparga, dismantles these clichés, revealing in part the other side of the veil. (A section of Her Other Side is adapted and performed by Benali in IDENTITY/IDENTITÉ.) Iranian born dance maker Zashar Zarif, now based in Toronto, hosted and guided the 2013 workshop where Benali framed the first two sections of IDENTITY/IDENTITÉ.
To unravel and reframe these cultural and religious elements, Benali is engaging in lengthy, highly detailed research to document the warp and weft of the lives and culture around her—moments she will then turn into her signature intense, image-rich movement.
“I’m recording people singing lullabies and talking to some older people about their love experience, to hear the way they talk about it. I’ve recorded not only the sound, but their gestures and expressions, the stars in their eyes. I’m planning to wear traditional clothes as I work, and I may not use them on stage, but I will use the quality of movement they can give me,” Benali says. “…these…will be the starting point.” It’s a starting point that promises to lend Benali’s work a profoundly human quality, beyond culture-specific struggles of identity.
A new work by Association Fleur d’Orange
in collaboration with Compagnie Posue
Choreographed and Performed by Hind Benali and Soufiane Karim
Soundscape created and performed live by Mochine Imrharn
Calligraphy by Yacine Fadhil
Lighting Design by Robert W. Henderson, Jr.
Video footage captured by Hind Benali
Center Stage will bring seven ensembles from Morocco, Pakistan and Vietnam to the U.S. for month-long tours from June-December 2014, connecting artists with diverse communities across the country. Residencies will include performances, workshops, discussions, people-to-people exchanges, and community gatherings. Keep up with Center Stage on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/CenterStagePage) and on Twitter (@centerstageus) and at www.centerstageUS.org
Center Stage is a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It is administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, and supported by the Asian Cultural Council. General management for Center Stage is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.