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Le Phare in “Näss” by Fouad Boussouf. Photograph by Charlotte Audureau

The People’s Movement

Fouad Boussouf’s “Näss” for Le Phare

Performance
Le Phare: “Näss” by Fouad Boussouf
Place
The Joyce Theater, New York, NY, October 23, 2022
Words
Marina Harss

Fouad Boussouf’s “Näss” (the title means “people,” in Arabic) is a dance for seven men from his company Le Phare, set to an hour’s worth of intensely rhythmic, often trance-like music. The men are strong, and focused, at times vulnerable, at times aggressive, but never less than compelling. As their bodies submit to, and then begin to bend, the rhythm, they seem to take part in rituals, either private or shared. Eventually each man peels away from the group and erupts into a solo—if it were a play, these would be monologues. Each seems to express a different emotion: solitude, fear, wariness, the need to break free. Each solo is performed with a fascinating combination of control and force. These men can really move—their feet are quick, upper bodies strong and fluid, arms nimble and able to propel them horizontally across the floor or vertically into the air. Each dancer contains a mystery, like, well, people.

Le Phare in “Näss” by Fouad Boussouf. Photograph by Charlotte Audureau

The piece, which was created in 2018 at the company’s headquarters in northern France, is inspired by both hip-hop dance and the regional dances of Morocco, including the taskiwine and reggada, also dances for men with a strong rhythmic element (I get this from the program note). A further source of inspiration is the 1970’s Moroccan band Nass el Ghiwane, which Boussouf, who was born in Morocco but is based in France, associates with the anti-establishment attitudes of hip-hop and rap. On some level, “Näss” is a dance of protest. These men often appear to be fighting against something; the overall mood is more one of wariness and self-protection than one of joy. Rhythm, here, is liberation and transcendence, as are the acrobatics the dancers display at one moment or another: death-defying leaps, flips, silken floorwork that seems to send the body in various directions at once.

But that freedom is not easily won or lightly offered. The dancing does not offer the wondrous physical release one sees in the works of Hervé Koubi, another choreographer with North-African roots who works with similar elements. The world of “Näss” is darker, more internal, and suggests that it is concerned with something that resembles spiritual quest. Toward the beginning, the dancers hold out their hands and stare upward into the light, as if awaiting a vision. At times, the throbbing movements become almost a trance dance, or a form of self-punishment, especially when the dancers pull at their shirts, eventually covering their faces with them in an act of self-abnegation.

Le Phare in “Näss” by Fouad Boussouf. Photograph by Charlotte Audureau

But for one moment, the pulsing energy subsides, just long enough for a voice to recite a poem in Arabic. I wish I knew what it said. But the voice is incantatory and full of lyricism. The poem leads into a beautiful song. It is then that the men remove the shirts from each other’s faces, touching one another other with care. Two of them embrace and spiral off into something resembling a ballroom dance. Soon enough, their movements become rougher and more aggressive. What appeared at first to be a dance of friendship becomes a kind of battle.

In the end, it is the rhythm that binds the men together. “Näss” ends as it begins, with the men’s backs to the audience, their bodies outlined in silhouette against a vaguely lit, cloud-like panel. Except that now they are not fully in unison—here and there, like kernels of popcorn, one pops higher into the air than the others. Something has changed. For the better, for the worse? We are left to wonder.