Despite its brevity, Bouchra Ouizguen's "Corbeaux (Crows)," presented by Walker Art Center last weekend, resembled the kind of endurance art that's characterized by performers pushing through long stretches of time, working through pain and exhaustion. If the work could be compared to a race, it would be the 400 meter, the longest distance race where runners sprint for the entire contest.
The first of three showings took place at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden outside the Walker. As nearby church bells struck noon, the murder of crow dancers burst out of the museum and made their way toward the park.
Dressed in black, with white kerchiefs covering their hair, the dancers looked like nuns from a distance, promenading down the sidewalk to a playing area on the south side of the park. There they stood in stillness for a few minutes, with church bells providing a serendipitous soundscape.
After the pause, the dancers spread out along the sidewalk. From there, they exploded into an intense, repetitive movement. Thrusting their heads up and down in furious nods, they simultaneously created sharp, guttural sounds with their voices.
While all the dancers were doing essentially the same gesture, there were slight differences. One performer thrust her head up and down at an angle. Some of the performers got their hands involved as well, jerking and twitching them with each jab of the head. Also, there were degrees of how sharp their movements were. The cast was made up of both local performers and Moroccan dancers from Compagnie O, a Marrakech dance group that Ouizguen formed in 2010. The Marrakech dancers seemed to have more capacity to push the movement to the extreme. They also were able to keep going after many of the local dancers eventually came to stillness.
At last, only one woman was left moving and grunting, her voice ringing out in an anguished cry, the last warrior hailing a triumphant, exhausted cry.
The 25-minute performance concluded with a revelrous celebration of singing, dancing and clapping. The performers made eye contact with the audience, swinging their hips and smiling in a lusty and fun conclusion. The release of that laughter-filled ending, after such an acute display of ritualized harshness, created a sense of power.
Watching it, you had the sense that these women, and perhaps women throughout the world, were capable of anything.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis arts writer.