Friday, July 16, 2010

Bouchra Ouizguen - Morocco's contemporary dance pioneer

Contemporary dance is hugely popular around the world and yet extremely rare in Morocco. But that may be about to change with an international success that recently hit the stage at a German festival.

Four women are on stage. Three of them are Aitas - traditional Moroccan wedding dancers adored by men, but often ostracized by their families and the rest of society. The other is Bouchra Ouizguen, the pioneering founder of Morocco's first and only contemporary dance company, Anania.

The work is entittled "Madame Plaza,and is one of 32 performances from 25 different countries currently being showcased by Germany's prestigious Theater der Welt (Theatre of the World) festival.

It is a brave piece. Bouchra Ouizguen's intimate portrait of a feminine world which exists in defiance of family pressure and social prejudice. It is also a tribute to the three women Ouizguen has chosen to work with: Kabboura Ait Ben Hmad, Fatima El Hanna and Naima Sahmoud.

A century ago, Aitas enjoyed a privileged position in Moroccan society. Prized for their beauty and musical accomplishments, they enjoyed respect from men and women, rich and poor alike.

Nowadays, however, Aitas have a very different status. Still a key feature of village ceremonies and festivals, the Aitas find themselves regarded as little better than dancing prostitutes. Men make lewd advances, and women treat them with suspicion.

One of the few practitioners of contemporary dance working in Morocco today, Ouizguen feels a deep comradeship with the Aitas. In a way, she feels, it is the Aitas who have led the way for her own pioneering career path.

"In Morocco," Ouizguen says, "the status of 'artist' is not recognized. It was difficult for me to decide to become an artist, but when these women started out 30 years or so ago, it was even harder. I find their choice extremely admirable. In fact, I take my hat off to them!"

Hats off to Ouizguen as well as she puts Morocco's contemporary dance on the world stage.

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