Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Moultaqa Dance Workshop - Fine if You Spoke French

This afternoon Dar Mokri was transformed into a Bollywood film studio and Japanese dojo, for Fez Festival’s ‘Moultaqa’ dance workshop. Billed as “an initiation into choreographic and musical arts through the language of meditation,” the venue quickly filled with mostly retirees eager to experience Japanese and Indian culture in a Moroccan setting.

Unfortunately the entire first half was conducted in French, alienating a good half of the crowd, resulting in many leaving after the first 20 minutes. As one visitor told The View from Fez, "What a shame they didn't even bother to have a translator there, especially with so many anglophone visitors. We all left.".

The art of "mudra"or hand gestures

The Indian component was led by University of Paris aesthetics professor Katia Légeret, who has trained in the art of Bharata-Natyam (South Indian dance and theatre) for over 30 years. Part lecture, part workshop, Légeret took attendees through a series of graceful movements of the Bharata-Natyam style. Focussing on the core and expanding out, participants were encouraged with each intricate hand gesture to make eye contact, and, when the movement was complete, arrive back at the centre: the heart.

Légeret’s workshop appeared a valuable introduction to Indian dance, and Légeret was certainly a seasoned speaker, possessing a quietly charismatic style, however she conducted the entire hour sitting down with long explanations in French. Given the Fes Festival’s “world music” focus, and particularly noting that the two art forms showcased this afternoon were considerably international, more should have been done by organisers to cater to an international crowd.

Thankfully, the second half of the workshop was much more interactive, international and really quite a spectacle! TenChi Tessen is the art of movement using the tessen (Japanese war fan). In the Japanese tradition, TenChi primarily refers to Heaven and Earth, among which stands Man. The tessen, which is symbolic of the breath of life, is the connecting link between the two.

TenChi Tessen involves the body and breath harmoniously joining to create movement, music and silence. Through these techiniques, the practice encourages participants to listen to their body and release it of tensions and stress. This afternoon, the Portuguese arm of this Japanese art form took attendees on an oriental journey to the hills of Japan, enrobed in white and providing a blood-red tessen for each workshop attendee. Encouraging the audience to stand, whole body exercises and movements were performed, explaining the importance of each.

As audience eagerly snapped and twirled their tessen, instructors paced around the room correcting posture and style. During one exercise, the crowd partnered up, and a question and response style dialogue using the tessen was practised. It was explained that herein lies the difference between Japanese martial arts and the art of performance. While the execution of the fans loud snap! appeared confronting and aggressive, instructors explained that this was not an attack, but a question, to which there would be a response.

At the conclusion of the workshop, the TenChi Tessen instructors put on an incredible display of their art form. With whole-body movements, some highly acrobatic in nature, they somersaulted, dived and twirled with their tessen. Loud chanting and dramatic music added to the highly charged atmosphere, until silence descended, and one final electrifying SNAP! of fans filled the ancient riad.

Text: Natasha Christov
Photographs: Suzanna Clarke, Natasha Christov

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