Over the course of two different programs at the Walker Art Center it's clear that the five African women participating in the "Voices of Strength" tour know well the concepts of resistance and resilience. Purposeful contemporary dance movement and haunting imagery defined their works, although the memories of some linger longer than others.
On Wednesday night Kettly Noël (Mali/Hait) and Nelisiwe Xaba (South Africa) showed "Correspondances." What began as witty commentary on female sexuality (as perceived by the self and by others) evolved into a hard-hitting dissection of race, cultural stereotyping, gender hierarchies and even the cultural biases of ballet technique. Noël and Xaba are deft communicators who engage the audience directly, but the work's most indelible moment is also its most intimate as milk showers upon the duo and they respond with a dance of defiance, sliding across the liquid-covered floor.
While "Correspondances" provokes thought, Nadia Beugré's "Quartiers Libres" blows minds. This solo from the Ivory Coast choreographer is a harrowing journey with fiercely uncompromising movement and extreme situations. Whatever the obstacle -- yards of microphone cords, a large plastic garbage bag fully stuffed into her mouth, a set filled with renegade plastic bottles - Beugré battles through it, finally thrusting her hands up high in the sign for victory or peace -- but never surrender. Few performers could match her bravery or intensity.
Mozambique's Maria Helena Pinto took the stage Thursday night with her solo "Sombra." A bucket over her head speaks volumes about the invisibility of women worldwide, as do her limited and deliberate movement due to the impediment. She performs amidst other buckets, a woman not only without identity but also condemned to repetitive labor. Of all the pieces in "Voices," though, it felt the slightest, its theme resonating longer than the elements supporting it.
"Madame Plaza," by Morocco's Bouchra Ouizguen, shared the evening. Her work, which subtly slips into gender role commentary, features the choreographer along with three ample-bodied Aïta-style vocalists (Kabboura Aït Ben Hmad, Fatima Elhanna and Naïma Sahmoud) whose chanting, guttural roars and piercing tones tap into a primal core of being. The movement is minimalist for the most part, yet unexpectedly effective, with Hmad, in particular, displaying an uncanny sense of gesture as she tears into a scene with a parody of male entitlement.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.