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Radouan Mriziga

Distancing oneself to improve the connection is a theme in the life and work of the young Moroccan choreographer Radouan Mriziga (°1985). Thus a committed detachment, one that runs deep to discover new perspectives.

To start with he had to distance himself from the close family ties and community spirit inherent to his culture in order to become a dancer. He left Marrakech for Tunisia to study dance and from there went to France for more intensive training in body awareness. After he - rather coincidentally - participated in a round of auditions for the renowned school led by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, he ended up in Brussels in a new close community, that of P.A.R.T.S.

I first noticed Radouan Mriziga in the theatre production Half elf zomeravond by Bart Meuleman for Toneelhuis (2012), in which his stunning virtuoso dance interventions formed a welcome counterpoint to the acting's verbal overkill. His own work is all the more surprising because at first glance, his first solo 55 (2014) as well as 3600, a piece for three performers from 2016, appear conceptually bare, austere, stripped of any decoration or virtuoso language. Also far removed from the narrative of his Arabic background.

In a recent interview with the French Mriziga talks about the distance he takes from socio-cultural themes from the Muslim world. The interviewer Gérard Mayen can identify with this because he has seen all too often how contemporary Maghreb choreographers in Europe are viewed from a new kind of exotism prism: post-colonial, anti-fundamentalist or medina-tourist. Incidentally it was a precondition for Radouan Mriziga that he would not act as a role model for a particular group when he started working under the wings of Moussem Nomadisch Kunstencentrum in 2014, a Brussels-based organisation that focuses on artists from Arabic culture.

This does not mean that Mriziga renounces his background. Offstage he even allows himself a highly personal post-colonial reflex. One of the reasons, he explains, why he did not accept my suggestion to speak in French is that people still too readily assume that French is an official language in Morocco. And while in his work he derives inspiration from contemporary architecture and dance theory, Eastern and Western philosophy, from Arabic, French and world literature, in his choreographic pieces he ends up with the obstinate use of the mathematical, geometric patterns that form the essence of Islamic art. "What enthrals me is how form and function are linked,” he reveals, "the maker of the patterns is simultaneously a craftsman, artist, engineer, philosopher and designer, as well as a medium that unravels a divine scale and exposes proportions in galaxies, the universe as well as the human body." On stage Radouan Mriziga presents, with the body as the key actor, an intriguing combination of abstracting distance and directness. Rather than a spectator you are a witness of how a construction is created, how performing bodies execute functional, daily tasks and combine functions - those of a measuring instrument, light source, construction worker, soundman, music maker - to conjure up an object out of the choreography. Here and there the labour is hard for the performers, but "that toiling represents involvement, and an involved body brings about change, in the object, in the space as well as in the connection with others,” states the choreographer.

To him the stage is first and foremost a free zone for experimenting with other fields and disciplines – with the pleasant side effect that his performances seamlessly fit in various presentation contexts (e.g. outdoor locations and museums). In 2016, Radouan Mriziga is preparing the third part of his triptych about choreography as construction and architecture in Casablanca with three Moroccan dancers. 55 (2014) was the first part, 3600 followed in 2016 and 7 is planned for 2018. As of 2017, Radouan Mriziga will spend five years as artist in residence in the Brussels Kaaitheater.

The clip comes from the final phase of the 55 minute-long solo by Radouan Mriziga, which in turn is divided into two parts. The dancing is key in the first part: Mriziga connects his body with the surrounding space in rhythmic, abstract measuring and fitting movements, on vertical, horizontal and lateral axes, with movement material that sometimes appears to be Arabic, circling, stepping, sprawled on the floor, with finger snapping and slight movements. The five small cassette players, with which he demarcated the play area at the beginning, play short audio clips from different music cultures. In the second part he proceeds to leave visible traces with his movements in the form of a floor pattern, which we gradually see emerge. His movement material is now purely functional, or rather: artisanal. Here, in the clip, he uses his body as a measuring instrument, his forearm as the arm of a compass to outline in chalk the precious points he will connect with tape.

In this part of the performance this craftsmanship makes the passing of time an interesting element. Mriziga literally rolls out time with his tape - time becomes visible, time is transformed into an object, just like the performer's movement that led to that object. The possible resistance of the spectator against the predictability of this slow unwinding is countered here with a meticulous movement rhythm, with an intriguing soundscape of birdsong (what is its function - what meaning should I afford it?) and above all, the feeling of inevitability and urgency that the performer places in his here-and-now presence.

Parallel to the geometric precision and timing in their constructions, the passing of time is once more the order of the day: the time it inevitably takes to drag the stone, the patience required to do so from the performers and the spectators.

Mriziga designs choreographic pieces as structures in which everything is connected with everything, also with what went before. A similar geometric pattern forms the basis in 3600, as in 55. Thus he creates an abstract element - continuity – instantly highly specific without it becoming anecdotal. On the other hand there is also an evolution towards a more complex spatiality, with three performers in a three-dimensional construction. Or rather, a series of constructions, because during the 3,600 seconds for which the performance lasts, the dancers repeatedly construct new structures with the same stones: rather than an end product this is one long agile exploration of potential, of possibilities out of which they continuously explore new perspectives.

Parallel to the geometric precision and timing in their constructions, the passing of time is once more the order of the day: the time it inevitably takes to drag the stone, the patience required to do so from the performers and the spectators. Different types of dynamic break into this linear time: stones are set down more forcefully or more gently, and minimal differences in work rhythms in the construction capture one's attention. This clip also beautifully demonstrates how the dancers confront the purely functional movements for the construction and mix them with choreography like an autonomous, abstract object. Just like for the floor pattern their movement material harks back to 55 – measuring, clapping, finger snapping to awaken the space, small Arabic touches – here too with a trend towards more complex patterns and symmetries, because of their triple interaction.

Lieve Dierckx

Lieve Dierckx is a theatre scientist. She writes about dance for various media, theatres and choreographers.