Taoufiq Izeddiou, an internationally renowned choreographer and dancer, has recently conducted in Bologna the first of the two workshops preparing the collective performance, '100 pas presque', that will be presented during 'Right to the City', the international festival of Atlas of Transitions. In this interview, recorded on 9th April 2018 and available on Atlas of Transitions' YouTube page, Taoufiq talks about contemporary dance and why we should walk all together.
Q: What does ‘100 pas presque’ mean?
A: If I think about all the work we do across different venues and locations, I realise that ‘100 pas presque’ is something new every time, since, every time, it acquires new meanings. When I see the people walking together, I have the feeling that I am looking at a ‘walking world’, with all its issues, that people from different regions and contexts constantly face. The only answer I can give to this question is that we should walk together – towards the same direction, by listening to each other, and by sharing the same message. We should find a common language. This is something missing within society nowadays, or slowly disappearing, if you like, and it calls us personally, as a sort of social emergency. I invite everyone to participate in our walk, to listen to the others, the walk itself, to make steps together by slowing the time down… All this should occur so that we can reflect, find the same rhythm, words… It sounds utopic and idealist, I know, but why not to dream a little!
Q: How do you apply the ‘100 pas presque’ performance across various cities, which are distinct from each other?
A: Each time, the first thing to do is to create a sort of spinal column, made of the people participating in the walk. This concept can be adapted to any space and to any time. It depends on us. I really like when the group is composed by amateur and professional dancers, young and older people. For instance, here in Bologna, there is an elderly woman and a young girl, aged almost 16. You may say that ‘100 pas presque’ is multi-generational… Then there are political refugees, migrants, local citizens, migrant people living in Italy who were granted Italian citizenship… However, when we performed in Jordan and Egypt, or in Venice, we got separate feelings. In each place human body and public space express themselves in a different way, so that every collective walk begins with specific personal energies and intentions…
Q: You are used to work with people who have very different backgrounds and abilities. How do you create that single body, that spinal column you mention?
A: For a start, let’s consider what ‘walking’ means. A walk can seem something ordinary: we wake up, walk, sit, lie-down… Walking is the very first thing we learn to do. I would like to work on the movements that a child makes throughout his growth… Starting from this idea of ‘walking’, you can then think about the concept of ‘falling’. Walking means to fall. Falling means to learn how to walk – this is the precious rule I always follow. When we slow down, we interrupt the space flow around us as well. Then, if we all look for something inside of us, like an inner memory, a sort of harmony settles between the people involved, who identify themselves with a common principle. All choose the same direction, a future, a present, a past… ‘100 pas presque’ is like to write a one-hour music score in gradual crescendo, which gives a frame to the entire group’s work – nobody is left alone. All the participants work on their own, looking for the movements that trigger their body.
When people come and join the walk, they bring their personal knowledge but they also employ it in a context that is shared with others. The aim here is to have strong individuals within a strong community – being together while giving space to the expression of everyone. Some of the participants will become the guardians of time, space, and energy during the walk. They help the others move forward, being at the same time points of reference. Of course, all the walkers have distinct bodies, their own paths, memories and dreams and, most of all, the desire to walk alongside the others. It is quite rare that we meet the chance to walk with a group of hundred persons, isn’t it? In the city, we usually walk next to one or two people only…
Q: As a choreographer, you create both collective performances and individual works, with your own body on stage. Is dance practice, as an expressive language, always the same? In other words, what is dance?
A: Of course, yes. There is a contrast between the dance practice I use in my solo performances and the one that can be developed through collective works. This reflects a sort of personal duality, which is connected to my own story. I need time alone, where I dance alone and, at the same time, I feel the urge to amplify what I explore by sharing it with others, by dreaming about it collectively, by orchestrating and choreographing others’ bodies… I may say that my own body prepares me to a greater staging, and that a collective work prepares me for a solo performance.
Q: Coming back to ‘100 pas presque’… How did you conduct your workshops in different cities? What did you get from those experiences?
A: The first time we performed the collective walk ‘100 pas presque’ was a kind of excuse to confirm that contemporary dance truly exists in Morocco. We aimed to give visibility to the dancers by stopping the heart of the city (Marrakesh) for about an hour while crossing a roundabout. That was a radical idea. It was like saying at loud, ‘Hey, look at us, we’re here! Let’s talk, let’s do something together’. That very first time, ‘100 pas presque’ was not conceived as a project to be exported, and neither as an artistic idea. It was a form of rebellion, a sort of creative proof in public space testifying that the dance scene is alive in Morocco as well, and that there are numerous talented dancers. In 2013, I received the first proposal to bring the project abroad, to Marseille, in France. We accepted and for three days we worked with Kurdish musicians and professional dancers at the Old Port of Marseille. It was incredible. From that magic moment on, ‘100 pas presque’ has become a universal idea that anyone can appropriate.
Q: Usually, what is the public’s reaction to the performance?
A: Since the walk lasts an entire hour, the audience progressively accumulates energy during the first forty-five minutes - that’s the time we need to go through the public space… We put the audience on hold, by making them feel the increasing energy, step by step. Then, a real body explosion takes places – and this is not the kind of explosion we hear nowadays in the news. It is a dance explosion, which comes from bodies’ movements, from the souls and inner power of the dancers. During these forty-five minutes we invite the public to join us, so people are actually ready since the beginning. They are aware that they are about to experience something together with us. Suddenly, all become dancers, musicians, singers. Dance is inside us, in our bodies, in all our life experiences. We cannot hide it. Dance and music belong to each of us. Every time we did the performance, the public has been enchanted by our invitation to dance, all together, swung by the sensation of freedom… I may say that this has turned into our credentials.
Q: During a performance, did it ever happen to you that someone developed an unpredictable behaviour and changed what had been prepared earlier?
A: Yes. Once, a person brought objects, things… I have no idea where they came from, or how they got spread around…. as a result, that performance turned into improvisation rather than a collective walk. If the idea to walk together is obstructed, the project does not convey the same values any more in the public space. It becomes experimentation, improvisation. For this reason my first rule is, ‘No objects!’. Sometimes it also happens that two persons walking next to each other start dancing together... They feel like they want to walk as a duo. This also can change the performance’s final result. We should always remember that we work as a group and that our own individualities should rarely emerge so firmly. Once, it also occurred that a pigeon walked together with us for about fifty meters. When we got close to it, the pigeon moved forwards and waited for us. You may say that the place where we walk is sacralised somehow by the lines delimiting it, which also prevent the public from crossing the area during the performance. This space becomes particularly visible as soon as the gap between dancers and musicians reduces…
Q: Do you have specific expectations for the collective walk that will be performed in Bologna during ‘Right to the City’, the first international festival of Atlas of Transitions?
A: I am very happy to be here and part of the Atlas of Transitions project. It has been a few days since I arrived in Bologna and I am surprised to see what we have already reached… the amount of concentration has quickly increased from a low to a very high level. The participants in the workshop have started appropriating the ‘100 pas presque’ concept and turning this project into their own, into their own walk. Nothing makes me happier than disappearing from the scene and letting people express themselves completely. Atlas of Transitions responds to the social issues raised by the media and within politics as well as the artistic sector. Instead of talking about how to deal with immigration and refugees now and in the future, we should ask ourselves how we could walk together. When I look at the people participating in ‘100 pas presque’, I feel like the world is walking in front of my eyes. It warms my heart and makes ‘100 pas presque’ continue its path, travelling from one place to another, from a country to another, and bringing people together. We all ask ourselves, ‘Who am I? Who are the others? What is the world I live in?’…
Q: About ‘On Marche’, the festival you direct in Marrakesh… What is its mission?
A: Initially, I didn’t have in mind that I was about to put a festival together… ‘On Marche’ represented more an occasion to develop a debate with the artists and choreographers working in Morocco and stay a week or so together while discussing each one’s ways of staging, also to test the public’s reactions to our artistic productions. It was the year 2005! We got a feeling about the current situation in the country and, after a week of intense work, we tried to understand how to make the public’s new interest in performing arts last. 'On Marche' has been a great success thanks to the active participation of the artists, the organisers, Saïd and I, Meriem, all of us who have contributed to the festival organisation. At some point we asked ourselves about how to make the event unique, different from all the rest. We had in mind a festival that listened to its audience and territory.
‘On Marche’ found its own identity in 2017, I may say. Many dancers and choreographers in Morocco have had the chance to get out from the darkness thanks to this festival. Professional artists from all over the world now come to Marrakesh to perform in public locations. We keep organising this event as we want to spread new ideas, also for the future generations. This is a festival that wants to grow but unfortunately it has no means, although there is talent and artistic expertise here. The organisation team is strongly involved, even dancers have become organisers! There is no such a thing as an artistic director – everyone does everything. This is the only way to survive. For the 2020 festival edition, we are planning the biggest dance event in Africa ever, ‘Danse l’Afrique Danse’. We will hold auditions for choreographers in 2019, the festival will run in 2020… If nothing emerges, if we don’t get results, well… then I will quit! (he laughs)
Q: What about the ‘Botero en Orient’ project?
A: This project was born from a quite crazy idea, as crazy as any other idea I have before any new production. I wanted to work with sumo wrestlers, six or seven of them, in order to develop a contemporary dance show. Then I found out that that was not possible, since sumo wrestlers are considered as Gods on heart. So I thought I would rather involve dancers who were bigger than me, as I am not exactly a slim man. So far, I have cast and grouped four dancers, a visual artist, a sound designer, a light designer, and a singer, and we will soon start a residence activity in Brussels and Louvière. The project is specifically inspired by Botero’s work in Abu Ghraib prison, setting of his paintings about the tortures occurred in that very same place. After the exhibition, Botero brought his work to a few museums in the United States as a strong political act. The project, ‘Botero en Orient’, develops a discourse about both contemporary body and dance, about the dancing body. We wonder what challenges, and if we should challenge, the traditional way we think about bodies, what dancers’ bodies should or should not do. I call it ‘Botero Ballet’. ‘Botero en Orient’ is quite a physical performance, and I haven’t given up my idea to work with sumo wrestlers yet! I think I will go to Japan to shoot a three-minute film about one of them at least, and I will then play it during the show. I need to amplify gestures, movements, dancers’ presence on stage, their body, to talk about different bodies, to give a different interpretation of what dance is. The show will be ready next year and will stage in Bordeaux, Marseille, Vitry, Théâtre National de Bruxelles, Aix-en-Provence… perhaps ‘Botero en Orient’ will tour in the French institutes in Morocco as well…
Interview and video by Konstancja Dunin-Wasowicz