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Exploring war and folklore through the medium of dance

Some memories are so powerful that they leave traces, imprints and half-remembered fragments of the past that in the present moment can transform themselves into new repertoires of being and understanding in the world. This was the case when French choreographer Christian Rizzo witnessed a performance of a traditional folkloric war dance while travelling in Istanbul in 2004. The power and movement of that performance stayed with him and, over the years, became a source of inspiration for his own work.

“I kept this memory inside me, but I didn’t really know why,” Rizzo tells me. “I wanted to start with the idea of this folk dance only danced by men; to see how the dance could be a place for joy, happiness and sensuality and also to put aside some of the stereotypes of men dancing together.”

Premiering in the UK for the first time next week at London’s Sadler’s Wells, Rizzo’s d’après une histoire vraie (loosely translated as “based on a true story”) is the performative piece that emerged from this fragmented memory of a Turkish war dance. Now in its third year, and having toured all over the world, d’après une histoire vraie uses the starting point of folkloric dance to explore themes of human connectedness and distance.

“I wanted to create a folkloric dance devoid of geography and devoid of cultural specificity,” says Rizzo, “to extrapolate the movements beyond a particular culture and a particular part of the world.”

“Every time we perform in different countries, people think we’ve drawn on local culture – which just shows how universal it is,” he adds. “It’s about community, about joy; something we can all relate to and against the current political climate.”

In this sense, d’après une histoire vraie is an embodied encounter with what makes us human; which motif and traditions we hold on to even in the face of social and political alienation. Folkloric dance, by definition, ties us to localised cultures and places at the same time as it opens us up to the universality of human experience – how a war dance in Turkey can have parallels with a rain dance in North America, or a line dance in the Middle East.

And yet, despite such potentially political undertones, Rizzo specifically didn’t want to enter into a debate about Middle East politics in his performance, but rather draw attention to the common forms and questions that affect all of us. In particular, he uses the medium of dance to showcase the formation and dissolution of communities; how in-group and out-group dynamics come to be formed and performed materially through the physicality of the body. In this sense, d’après une histoire vraie is about “a community being made – and communities are often made by ejecting elements or casting aside differences,” says Rizzo.

“We are all of us facing the same problems – the loss of community, the increasing sense of isolation, the fear of losing each other. That’s what this dance is all about.”

The UK premier of d’après une histoire vraie will be showing at Sadler’s Wells on 16 and 17 November 2015.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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