Gallaudet dance piece bridges ideas; henna is highlighted during embassy tours


Choreographer and hip hop dancer Amine Boussa's "Moovance." (Joao Garcia)
April 25

The bridging of borders. The bridging of dance styles. The bridging of gaps between ideas. All three of those feats will coincide when France’s Compagnie Chriki’Z presents the ­­­hip-
hop- and modern-dance-
influenced piece “Moovance” at Gallaudet University’s Elstad Auditorium on May 1. Created by Amine Boussa, an Algerian-born French choreographer, and presented locally as part of the Urban Corps’s transatlantic dance festival, an annual project of the Alliance Française of Washington, “Moovance” ponders how different individuals, and different cultures, can coexist — and maybe even develop intimacy.

“I wanted to juxtapose two bodies — Woman and Man, with different paths and styles — in order to see how my own hip-hop dance would register in each one,” ­Chriki’Z founder Boussa said in French in an e-mail interview, communicating from La Rochelle, where Chriki’Z is based. “In the work we can see the life of a couple we can all identify with, posed midway between dependence and individual identity. And we can also see how two beings can live together without stifling each other — can complete each other — even in the context of a social, ethnic or cultural difference.”

A dance for two performers — in the District, Boussa will perform it with Jeanne Azoulay — “Moovance” conjures up a mood that is now wondering and tentative, now spirited and intense. To a score that includes music by the electronica artist Murcof and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a group (sometimes described as “post-rock”), two figures dance separately and together, sometimes entwining their bodies, sometimes experimenting with muscular, close-to-the-ground physicality. Over the course of about a half-hour, the movements of the duo increasingly sync up with each other.

Boussa, who has performed with France’s Compagnie Accrorap and other troupes, says “Moovance” draws on an eclectic array of sources. “From hip-hop to contemporary, and even sometimes the observation of everyday gestures or forms that have nothing to do with dance — ‘Moovance’ is a condensation of all that,” he says. (The piece’s title plays on a French word that can signify instability or sphere of influence.)

Indirectly, the dance also reflects Boussa’s personal cultural background. Born in Algiers, he spent much of his adolescence in Algeria and still returns there regularly to visit family. His sense of affiliation to two countries — France and Algeria — is artistically advantageous, he believes. “It pushes me to stay open to other forms of dance, and sometimes to put aside my primary aesthetic — which is hip-hop — to explore other ones,” he says.

French-Algerian choreographer and dancer Amine Boussa performs his 2011 work, “Moovance,” with Jeanne Azoulay in this three-minute clip. (Lauren McEwen/The Washington Post)

“Moovance” is just one of the offerings in the 2014 Urban Corps festival, which includes a performance by the French company De Fakto and a closing party that will feature dance embellished by whirling, careening lights.

Highlighting henna

For a type of creative expression that sticks around for a while, try henna body art. When applied to the hand, “usually it lasts around a week, but it will also depend on how often the person washes their hands,” says Anum Hussain, who will be among the artists offering henna application to the public as part of the Around the World Embassy Tour on Saturday. “If they wash dishes every day, it is likely to wear off,” she adds. “It also depends on your skin tone: The lighter your skin tone is, the longer it will last.”

Decorating the skin with henna, a vegetable dye, is a long-standing tradition in the Middle East, Africa, India and Pakistan. At this year’s Around the World Embassy Tour — part of the month-long Passport DC celebration produced by Cultural Tourism DC — the Saudi Arabian Embassy will host a henna station, as it has done in the past. “We’ve always found it’s very popular,” says Tarik Allagany, an embassy spokesman. “We’ve had long lines.”

Hussain, who is from Pakistan, says the level of interest kept her busy for hours when she worked at the Saudi Embassy’s henna station last year. “I would take a sip of water and then look up and there was the next person in line,” she recalls. People in the United States have grown more interested in henna body art in recent years, she thinks. “I definitely notice more and more people getting it” done, she says.

Hadia Abul-Qasim, another henna virtuoso who is scheduled to be at the embassy on Saturday, agrees that the decorative adornments are increasingly in demand in the United States. For instance, “the ladies in the American Muslim culture, they start to adopt the tradition of henna for weddings,” she says.

As for the kind of patterns that are in vogue, Abul-Qasim — who hails from Sudan — says it often depends on the background of the wearer. In “some of the countries close to the Middle East or Red Sea area, they prefer more flowery designs,” she says, whereas in “some of the African countries, they do a lot of lines and geometric shapes.”

The Saudi Embassy is one of more than 50 embassies participating in the Around the World Embassy Tour this year. At other diplomatic outposts around the city, the public will be able to experience tea tastings, Dominican rum tastings, Thai massages, demonstrations of capoeira (a Brazilian martial art) and more.

Events in the Around the World Embassy Tour will take place between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Even if she ended up applying henna for that entire time, the gig would just be a flash in the pan to Abul-Qasim, who says she has practiced the art of henna for almost 30 years. She is so experienced that, if she really concentrates, she can decorate both of her own hands herself. “It’s a little difficult,” she admits.

AFDC Urban Corps Dance Festival
Through Saturday. Various locations. Visit www.francedc.org/ events/?id=269.

Around the World Embassy Tour
Saturday. Various locations. Visit www.culturaltourismdc.org.

Wren is a freelance writer.

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