Abou Lagraa and his dance company Cie La Baraka blessed the Kennedy Center with wonderfully inventive choreography and an amazing range of movement qualities in a performance of Lagraa’s work Allegoria Stanza on March 3. Part of the Kennedy Center’s festival Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World, the performance expanded dances, gestures, and street rhythms from Lagraa’s Arab and African roots into a work addressing every human in nature.
The ten-dancer cast moved in front of three large video screens onto which water-scapes were projected through the dance space. The video thus played both on the dancers’ bodies and on the screens. The video images of swirling water, crashing waves, and white foam, although having fractal complexity, were astonishingly plain compared to the dancers’ movements. The dancers mixed completely fluid, buoyant movement with percussive pulses, now jarring their stiff forms, now propagating outward through their bodies. They made linear gestures that ended in taut muscles, and ornate, endlessly curving gestures. A particularly beautiful quality was energy projected outward, then dissipated in relaxing fingers and wrists. Video of moving water was much less intricately engaging than this human choreography. The human body can make a richer sense of human movement than movement of non-human nature. The advantage of the human body for a human audience is simply a matter of common medium.
Humans have a common human nature, but they differ in the particularities of each person’s incarnation. Lagraa’s choreography beautifully engaged with the different bodies of his dancers. All the dancers were extraordinarily talented, but they were not identical. Embracing this reality, the cast did not point to leading dancers, nor was there a sense of dancers who have striven to perform best some standardized syllabus of movements. Prominence and focus in the choreography was relatively equally distributed across the whole cast. Lagraa seems to have carefully designed particular choreography for the particular bodies of the individual dancers.
The video embedded below gives you some sense of Lagraa’s exquisitely creative choreography. A video excerpt of Allegoria Stanza exists, but after having seen the work live, I find the video intensely disappointing. I could never dance like Cie La Baraka’s dancers. After more than two decades of mainly sitting at a desk, I have even less movement capabilities. Yet when I watched Allegoria Stanza live, my eyes were dancing in framing and focusing through the movement of the work. Movement was also happening, I think, deep in my muscle memory. That sort of spatial sense, a kind of dynamic resolution, and that kind of movement, cannot be faithfully represented with any medium other than a full-size, 3D recreation of the work. Even high-definition, big-screen video doesn’t offer such a recreation. To appreciate fully the movement, you must see the actual dance.