When theatre excels, it gets under the skin, leaves its experiential mark. This is absolutely the case with the performance of Blasmia (‘nameless’) by the Moroccan company Daha-Wassa. Without a shadow of doubt, this was the highlight of the annual arts festival in Tangiers where the show had its avant-première (16 September). (You can view a taster here: https://vimeo.com/183811298)
I have not so much been thinking about Blasmia since I saw it in mid-September, as feeling its after effects. As a performance, it is compelling and hypnotic; the ensemble captivates with its physical and vocal registers in which East meets West – Sufi-spinning, spiritual chanting and pulsating electro-music. Affectively charged, it is also a performance that invokes a sensual dissolve between ‘acting’ and ‘watching’: to watch is to feel opened up by and infused with the performers’ energies in ways that reactivate a sense of the world around us.
The ‘fashioning’ of gender marks the entry into the performance: if you are a woman wearing a skirt you enter by one door; if in trousers by another. These reminders of every-day gender divides unravel in the performance: all the male performers and the one female performer become ‘uniform’ in the wearing of Sufi-styled ‘whirling skirts’.
What starts out in tribal rhythms and a ‘zoo-like’, animalistic gazing back at the audience, gradually fragments and dissolves into solo routines of self-discovery. Each performer in some way pulls away from the ‘whole’ and yet eventually is reintegrated in ways that make the ensemble ultimately more than the sum of its human ‘parts’.
Video capture of the audience gets played back in fragments; so too do sequences of self-filming by the performers on hand-held devices – monochromatic echoes of the ensemble in their black skirts bordered in white. I couldn’t help but think of how this ironizes the cult of self-regarding ‘selfies’, since the performers’ technique reminds us of the impossibility of capturing identities, or of how identities are distorted by their individual self-reproduction for the private/public gaze.
Bodies in ceaseless, often relentless motion, accompanied by the filmic fragments and pounding music, produce an array of dizzying effects and perspectives that refuse to settle into any one complete (self) image. Instead, what we are offered are the collectively arrived at fragments of something much deeper: ‘inner’ selves, desires, longings, brought out in the performers’ vocal and physical choreographies.
Of all these affectively realised performances, the one that has lingered the most in my memory is of the stand-out female performer: the performative energies of her virtuoso, solo ‘whirling’ in all its hypnotic, longue durée clamouring for another way of being in our contemporary world.
If anyone has a chance to see this show on its international tour, it is a must!