UW World Dance Series Brings Compagnie La Baraka to Meany Hall

Written by Mariko Nagashima
Abou Lagraa’s Compagnie La Baraka performed their epic A World in Itself March 3-5, 2011, marking their second appearance in UW’s World Dance Series. Lagraa’s mercurial choreography was impeccably accompanied by France’s Debussy String Quartet. What made this collaboration especially intriguing was that the musicians weren’t sequestered in a corner or an orchestra pit, but walked about the peripheries of the stage throughout the work, at times even interacting with the dancers. This unconventional twist called the audience’s attention to their magnificent rendition of works by John Cage, Anton Webern, and J.S. Bach.

As the dramaturge Gérard Garutti states in the program notes, this ballet demonstrates how “everything is linked in our universe. How the cosmic world and the human world are deeply connected.” Lagraa manages to depict the interconnectedness of everything— how the bonds at the molecular level mirror human interactions—with nothing short of remarkable choreography. His striking blend of jazz, contemporary, and lyrical movement styles seem to flow through the dancers’ bodies like quicksilver.
A World in Itself took the audience on a journey beginning with the Big Bang, in which everything came from nothing, and gradually evolved in complexity to depict the building of societies, and the struggle and beauty of interpersonal relationships. Opening with flashing circles of light and a cacophony of sounds, the seven dancers appeared gyrating in random patterns across the stage as the lights slowly came up. In one moment they appeared to be singular particles of energy ricocheted through space, and in the next they became celestial bodies in a delineated orbit; the group gradually became more ordered and their interactions with one another more profound. The piece dissolved from ensemble work to a series of solos, duets, and trios.
In one notable duet Lagraa created an elegantly choreographed fight scene. Though the tension was palpable, aggression and combat never looked so smooth as the dancers tackled each other, moving from arcing lifts to tumbles on the floor with controlled ease. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, another duet depicted young love, filled with tender caresses and longing glances.
A final aspect of the evening’s production worth mentioning was the striking lighting designed by Gérard Garchey, and how it enhanced the movement. In several instances the dancers were restricted to small boxes of white light while the rest of the stage remained black. Though the squares limited their movement base, the dancers still managed to utilize every facet of their body, rotating this way and that, trapped in their own island of light. In another scene, the stage was flooded with blood red light, and the choreography depicted a vicious relationship. A man violated a woman, manipulating her arms and legs from behind and tossing her limp figure repeatedly in the air. In the end, only one man was left rotating in the center of the stage, ringed by a thin circle of white light, his own individual world. A human centrifuge, he whirled violently until stopping, exhausted. With a gaze upward into the cosmos, the circle of white faded to black.