"Voices of Strength" and bodies, too | Dance Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

"Voices of Strength" and bodies, too 

Five African choreographers in the flesh

Quartiers Libre

Quartiers Libre

Antoine Tempé

Women's flesh—plentiful or scant, covered or bare, yielding or starkly resistant—is the bottom line in "Voices of Strength," two programs of dance theater by women from Africa. Buzzwords about race and gender can't convey the visceral jolt delivered by this mini festival of four works by five African women. Most of the participants have studied and performed in Europe; the piece closest to Western sensibilities is the often sardonic Correspondances, a duet by stick-thin Kettly Noel (born in Haiti, based in Mali) and Nelisiwe Xaba (South Africa). But once the piece breaks out into a female free-for-all, irony disappears.

Indeed, none of these choreographer-dancers holds back. In Quartiers Libres ("Free Territory"), Cote d'Ivoire's muscular Nadia Beugre alternately seduces and confronts us. Mozambique's Maria Helena Pinto hides her light under a bushel, wearing a bucket over her head throughout Sombra ("Shadow"). And in Madame Plaza—named after one of Marrakech's oldest and least reputable nightclubs—choreographer Bouchra Ouizguen and three ragged-voiced aÏta singers (part of a fast-disappearing Moroccan subculture) embody a radical, women-only form of freedom.

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