Dance Place, Artist Interview: Hind Benali

Dance Place, Artist Interview: Hind Benali

Oct 01, 2014

Hind-Benali-Fleur-1-by-Alice-Dufour-Feronce

As part of their US tour, Fleur d’Orange brings their riveting performance ofIDENTITY/IDENTITÉ to Dance Place for one night only. Spearheaded by choreographer and dancer Hind Benali, the intense, image-rich movement of the piece traces the personal interiors and public exteriors of Moroccan life — a nation that stands at the crossroads of past and present, Africa and Europe. Set to an evocative sound score by composer-musician Mohcine Imraharn and joined on stage by fellow dancer Soufiane Karim, Hind gracefully explores her personal past and African roots, the limits and freedoms of Morocco’s history and current practices and the multivalent layers of culture and religion. We spoke with Hind about her many influences, Western stereotypes of Arab women that she hopes to challenge through her work and the importance of travel to her creative process. IDENTITY/IDENTITÉ takes the stage on Saturday, October 4 at 8pm at Dance Place. Tickets are still available on our website.

Describe your performance of IDENTITY/IDENTITÉ in five words or phrases.

Tradition, complexity, us today, frustration and hope.

What does it mean to you to create work as a Moroccan dancer, choreographer, and woman?

[I created] IDENTITY/IDENTITÉ to see what was going to remain from all my memories and in my body when I think about my history — what is the most important, what really makes me [who I am] today. Who is Hind? Who is Hind as a Moroccan, as a Moroccan artist and as an international artist. So we started with my memories, with my grandmothers’ memories and I noticed that I’ve been really influenced by the women that surrounded me as I was growing up. I have five sisters and I lived with my mother and my grandmothers — all very strong personalities. I built my work around this.

I feel very engaged in the fight for women in Morocco. I’ve been working with lots of different organizations and women’s groups. I don’t have a particular message, just that if you have something to say, you should be able to express yourself. And we really don’t have that in our culture [at the moment].

What has the process of making IDENTITY/IDENTITÉ been like for you and your collaborators?

Through Soufiane’s dancing, he tries to [evoke] the sensation that life goes on — that whatever happens, life still continues. In the piece he is like a very strong river and I am just a stone. Sometimes I stop and sometimes I am going. Sometimes I’m just thrown to the side. With Mohcine, he is in between, inside and outside. He is that outside eye and he holds the rhythm of the piece. He drew a lot from traditional Moroccan music to create the [score] for the show.

The three of us got together and chose which [aspects] of Moroccan culture we were going to bring to the US as part of our tour. It is a huge responsibility and we are very proud to be doing this. There are so many things that we wanted to explore, so we decided that this tour was going to be a process of discovery. We didn’t come here with something polished and finished — none of us wanted that. We want to keep the creation in process. And we are so excited to hear people’s reactions to the piece — that’s the most important part about all of this for me.

What do you hope to communicate to your audiences throughIDENTITY/IDENTITÉ?

I want them to leave thinking, “Oh, so that’s what Morocco is like!” Or, “We can have another color of Arab people.” [I want them] to think that the music was interesting or that they saw a beautiful costume — just one thing — and then go home and do some research about it.

I want to [debunk] the stereotype of poor women in Arab countries…that they don’t have the right to do this and that. No, we are happy. There are many different ways to exist. Just because we’re not like people [in the States], that doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with us. Even with religion — if  it is done properly, there is a big space and respect for women. All these stereotypes that people have of Arab women are just a product of the media, just extreme conceptions. I do have certain frustrations as an artist and a woman, but that is okay. We take these things as a kind of strength and not something we carry around [as baggage].

What do you do to keep fueling your creative and artistic process?

Traveling! Different cultures, talking with people. Even questions like these in interviews — they make me think about my answers and about who I am. I love traveling to countries where their traditions are very strong, places in Africa and Asia. I live in Morocco and am [deeply enmeshed] in the culture there, so sometimes I need to go out into the world to realize what I am doing.

Who or what have been some of your greatest influences?

Mathilde Monnier. She runs one of the best conceptual contemporary dance centers in Montpellier (France) and found me in Morocco during a workshop. I was still twenty-years-old and ended up going to her school. Her work is so creative and inventive and I have been very influenced by the unique way in which she looks at and builds things.

In Africa, Salia Sanou. He is a traditional contemporary dancer from Burkina Faso and is like the father of dance in Africa. He has a [long-standing] company and festival and knows how to encourage the newer generation to keep the dream alive. There is something very generous and powerful about him that I really admire. He reminds me to keep on dancing, to keep on fighting and to keep building dance in my country.

What is the best piece of advice you have for young dancers and choreographers?

It’s good to learn technique and to have a good dance education, but that’s really not enough if you want to share what you have [in your heart] and not just what you can do in a pair of pointe shoes. Don’t spend too much time in the studio and running from class to class. It is good to have a solid foundation, but there’s a moment when you should forget all of that and just find inspiration through talking with people, traveling, the mountains, whatever. You need to find your identity and what you really want to be doing. It takes time because your priorities are different when you are young, but technique is definitely not the most important thing.

The presentation of Fleur d’Orange is part of Center Stage, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, produced by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, with additional support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and the Asian Cultural Council. General Management for Center Stage is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.

Interview by Rachel Eva Lim