Washington Post, "Moroccan dance ‘Identity/Identite’ is bold and liberating, but its intentions aren’t clear"

Washington Post, "Moroccan dance ‘Identity/Identite’ is bold and liberating, but its intentions aren’t clear"

Oct 05, 2014

SARAH KAUFMAN

At the start of “Identity/Identite,” the Moroccan dancer Hind Benali was hidden under her ample skirt. In effect, that’s where she stayed for most of the next hour.

Her intriguing but cryptic piece premiered Saturday at Dance Place, the first stop for Benali and her collaborators, hip-hop dancer Soufiane Karim and musician Mochine Imrharn, who have embarked on a month-long tour of the Northeast through a State Department program of public diplomacy called Center Stage.

Contemporary dance in Morocco is still “fragile,” as Benali put it in an illuminating question-and-answer session with the audience after the performance. She might be able to perform “Identity” in cosmopolitan Casablanca, she said, but, since she is bare-legged when she finally emerges from that engulfing skirt, the piece would likely be too provocative for her home town of Oujda, on the Algerian border.

“I knew I was going to perform here in the U.S.A., so I felt free,” she said, with obvious pleasure. What a delightful, and poignant, statement. “Identity,” which was created especially for this tour, is clearly a bold and liberating act for the three performers. Much of the imagery was clever. Karim spun himself into a blur in ways I’d never seen.

What “Identity” lacks, however, is a firm intention, a drive, a sense of urgency. The metaphors of hiding and emerging, yearning and discovery, were clear. But the composition of the piece — how the images accumulate, the pacing, momentum and emotional force — needs sharpening.

 

“Identity” came about from “the need to do work about who I am, as a woman, as a Moroccan, as a dancer,” Benali told the audience. The performers were clearly absorbed in something powerful and meaningful to them. I wish I’d had a way into their experience.