Walking the serpentine streets of Fez far from the markets and shops allows any visitor to focus on the sounds: the men and women in separate clusters, respectively drinking coffee and smoking vs. making food, gossiping and, seemingly forever sweeping, the family dramas large and small echoing off the curving walls, all punctuated by the all trumping holler of the prayer calls. Moroccan choreographer Bouchra Ouizguen distills the daily life’s sights and sounds into a mesmerizing essence in her TBA performance, “Ha!” at Imago. The performance repeats one more time tonight. It’s 60 minutes and not easily forgotten.
The three performers who join Ouizguen might easily have been plucked from those Fez streets. These are round, aged women whose bodies seem shaped more by work than by any vision of art, their fluid grace punctuated with tiny moments of struggle. Dressed in tight black with white headscarves, they slowly emerge from the darkness in thrusting movements and shifting cadences of the namesake sound, “Ha!” This opening sequence lasts long enough to cycle from riveting engagement to boredom to hypnosis and, ultimately, amazement at the sustained intensity. The quartet then seamlessly begins entwining, arms and bodies smoothly making motions of nurturing and healing, cradle to grave. And, so it goes, Ouizguen and her collaborators conjuring and distilling experiences ranging from hip-thrusting sexuality to ghostly evocations of Sufism, always balancing on a fine edge between beauty and a kind of insanity.
It’s an impressive feat: to bring something so fundamentally “other” to an American stage, yet blast past any sense of voyeurism, not so much through artistry (although there is plenty) as through commitment to a form entirely of their own making.