French-Algerian choreographer explores the tensions between the body and Eastern culture.

El Djoudour (the Roots)

Abou Lagraa, Compagnie La Baraka, Ballet Contemporain D’Alger

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Following the tremendous success of Nya (Holland Festival 2011) the French-Algerian choreographer Abou Lagraa returns with El Djoudour. In his latest work, Lagraa shares his view on the essence of Islamic culture – how the traditions, practices and rituals are rooted in the core values of Islam: generosity and brotherhood. He was inspired by the eastern rituals concerning the three elements of purity, origin and spirituality. Through dance he examines the scope of freedom of the individual physical body within culturally diverse societies. Fourteen male and female performers dance to the live vocals of Houria Aïchi and the subtle musical arrangements of composer Olivier Innocenti.
Programme book

Credits

choreography, stage design, artistic director
Abou Lagraa
artistic assistant, instructions
Nawal Ait Benalla-Lagraa
dance
Nawal Ait Benalla-Lagraa
Ali Brainis
Sarah Cerneaux
Nassim Feddal
Jocelyn Laurent
Oussama Kouadria
Bilel Madaci
Marion Renoux
Fanny Sage
Féroz Sahoulamide
Tanné Uddén
Angela Vano
Bernard Wayack Pambe
Zoubir Yahiaoui
text, vocals
Houria Aïchi
music
Olivier Innocenti
lighting design
Nicolas Faucheux
production
Compagnie La Baraka
Abou Lagraa is in residentie bij Les Gémeaux in Sceaux / Scène Nationale van 2009-2014
coproduction
Grand Théâtre de Provence – Marseille Provence 2013 / Capitale Européenne de la Culture
Les Gémeaux/Sceaux/Scène Nationale
Théâtre National de Chaillot
Holland Festival
La Coursive
Scène nationale de La Rochelle
Le Théâtre*
Scène Nationale de Narbonne
with support of
SPEDIDAM
Ministère de la Culture français
Ministère de la Culture algérien
Fondation BNP Paribas
Ministère de la Culture – la DRAC Rhône-Alpes
Conseil Régional Rhône-Alpes
Ville de Lyon

Background information

The French-Algerian choreographer Abou Lagraa returns to the Holland Festival. In his latest production El Djoudour he goes in search of his own cultural roots as a Frenchman and an Algerian, as a European and an African, and as a dancer, choreographer and free-thinking Muslim.

In 2011, Lagraa made a deep impression at the Holland Festival with Nya. This production marked the first stage of a long-term project called Pont Culturel Méditerranéen Franco-Algérien, which is aimed at realising an artistic and cultural exchange between Europe and Africa. To Lagraa, dance is a tool to break down the barriers between various ethnic groups and religions. With his choreographies, he aims to show new possibilities of physical expression, especially in societies where the body is still repressed and hidden. El Djoudour (meaning 'the roots') is the continuation of this project. In this new production, Lagraa examines the freedom of the individual bodies of men and women within contemporary, culturally diverse societies. For his choreography, Lagraa was inspired by rituals relating to three basic elements in Eastern culture: rituals around purity (the element of water), origin (the element of earth) and spirituality (the element of air).

Lagraa: “I want to expose how these elements play a role in the non-verbal and sensual communication between men and women. Any relation with the body of another, especially that between men and women, is characterised by shame and an awareness of sexual intimacy. In Islamic culture, physical differences have led to a strong spatial seperation between men and women. However, does this seperation really exist? In what ways can men and women still come together in this culture? And what's the role of body language in this?”

The idea for El Djoudour first emerged when Lagraa was still working on Nya. During the rehearsals he felt a strong connection with the Algerian dancers, but at the same time he felt a stranger in a strange country – a country which is still suffering from the aftermath of the civil war (1991-2001) and great social desperation, even after the Arab Spring. This experience reminded Lagraa strongly of the problems which arise in Western societies when interpreting Islamic symbolism, and when cultural and religious ideas are confused. That feeling of alienation inspired him. In El Djoudour Lagraa demonstrates his personal interpretation of the essence of Islamic culture; how these traditions, customs and rituals are rooted in the universal values of generosity and brotherhood.

Abou Lagraa was born in France in 1970 of Algerian parents. As an internationally renowned dancer and choreographer he worked all over the world. In 2008 he returned to his motherland to search for his roots and to create a new show. With the support of the Algerian Department of Culture, the Algerian National Ballet and the French government he selected ten talented male dancers from a group of four hundred committed hip hop and breakdance performers. His wife Nawal, also a dancer and his artistic assistant, trained these self-taught b-boys to become experienced, professional dancers. Now they are part of a new ensemble for modern dance within the Algerian National Ballet.

The experiment resulted in Nya (trust in life), which displayed a sparkling and spectacular merging of hip hop bravado, capoeira, Maurice Ravel's exhilarating Boléro, contemporary dance of the highest level, a soundscape of city noises, songs based on sufi traditions and the remarkable, disarming vulnerability of the dancers. The self-assured swagger of their hip hop movements was combined in unexpected ways with high quality modern dance techniques, subtle aesthetics and full body control. Nya won the French Grand Prix de la Critique for best choreography in the 2011-2012 season and toured extensively throughout Europe.

A number of performers from the cast of Nya return in El Djoudour. However, this new show features a mixed ensemble. Fourteen men and women – including Nawal Ait Benalla-Lagraa – move together on stage in an intense, sincere and emotionally charged dance. El Djoudour has live singing by the Algerian singer Houria Aïchi, supported by the subtle musical arrangements of Olivier Innocent. Aïchi – who lives in Paris – is known as the cultural ambassador for the Chaoui, a Berber people from the Aurès region, in the Eastern ranges of the Atlas mountains. Aïchi combines the raw songs of female troubadours from her native region with the mystical, sacred hymns from the sufi tradition.

Lagraa began rehearsals in Tunis, in close co-operation with the Tunesian choreographer Syhem Belkhodjia. The process was continued in France. On 16 January of this year El Djoudour premiered at the Grand Théâtre de Provence in Aix-en-Provence as part of Marseille Provence 2013 / Capitale européenne de la culture.

Biographies

The French-Algerian choreographer and artistic director Abou Lagraa (1970) was born in the French town of Annonay. At the age of 16 he decided to become a dancer. He studied at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse in Lyon. He started his career as a dancer with Rui Horta in Frankfurt and later worked as his assistant for a project at the Bulbenkian Ballet in Lisbon. In 1997 Lagraa formed his own company Compagnie La Baraka. A year later he won second prize in contemporary dance at the Concours International de Danse Contemporaine in Paris. In 2009 he received the prize for Best Male Dancer at the German festival Movimentos. From his first choreography, his work has been performed at the dance biennial of Lyon. As an internationally renowned dancer and choreographer he has worked all over the world. With the support of the Algerian Department of Culture, the Algerian National Ballet and the French government he started the Pont Culturel Méditerranéen Franco-Algérien, a long-term project aimed at artistic and cultural exchange between Europe and Africa. In 2010 he selected ten talented male dancers from a group of four hundred hip hop and breakdance performers. His wife Nawal, also a dancer and his artistic assistant, trained these self-taught b-boys to become experienced, professional dancers. Now they are part of a new ensemble for modern dance within the Algerian National Ballet. Their first show, Nya, was performed at the Holland Festival in 2011. Nya won the French Grand Prix de la Critique for best choreography in the 2011-2012 season and toured extensively throughout Europe.

 

Choreographer, dancer and assistant director Nawal Ait Benalla-Lagraa (1978) was born in the Moroccan town of Safi. Her father was an Imazighen, her mother French. At the age of eight she moved to France. From 1989 until 1999 Aït Benalla-Lagraa trained as a ballerina with Sylva Ricard in Milau, where she was educated in classical ballet repertoire. In 1999, she discovered jazz ballet and was hired by the Armstrong Jazz Ballet, performing in work choreographed by Georges Momboye, Wayne Barbaste and Matt Matox. As a dancer she also took part in various music videos and theatre performances with Blanca Li, Jacques Weber en Yannis Kokhos. In 2005 she received her masters degree at the Centre National de la Danse. A year later she joined Abou Lagraa’s Compagnie La Baraka to work on a special project with the Memphis Ballet. She stayed with the company, rose to assistant choreographer and dance instructor, and became closely involved with the cultural exchange project Pont Culturel Méditerranéen Franco-Algérien. Among other things, she is responsible for the training of talented Algerian dancers within the Algerian National Ballet. As an assistant choreographer she exerted her influence on the productions of Nya and El Djoudour. She also conducts master classes and courses throughout the world.

This performance was made possible with support by