'I’m interested in buildings and the use of space'

Lees hier een verkorte versie in het Nederlands van dit inteview met Radouan Mriziga.

The choreographer and dancer Radouan Mriziga studied dance in Marrakesh and Tunisia and continued his career at P.A.R.T.S. in Brussels. Interested in the relation between the body and its surroundings, it is architecture that firms a red line through his work. ‘The important thing for me is to have the freedom to be able to present in different contexts, and to be surprised as to how a context can add something to the work.’ A conversation with Radouan Mriziga for his Kaaitheater residency (2017-2021).

How did you start with dance and why did it bring you from Morocco to Brussels?

My interest in dance came quite organically, although I grew up in a context where contemporary dance wasn’t a given. I’ve always done a lot of bodily activities though: different sports and street-dance. At first, dance was more a general interest, but I quickly wanted to develop it as a daily practice. In Morocco however, there was no dance scene – no fundamental support or schools – so I had to find my own way to practice dance. At a certain moment, I met two artists who would become my first real mentors, Jacques Garros and Jean Masse. They gave a workshop in Merkness (Morocco) and inspired me to apply for a dance school in Tunesia. What they taught me was an emphasis on bodywork as well as scientific insight into anatomy. This had a lot of impact on my artistic education. After Tunesia I went to France, to study again with Jacques and Jean, but I felt I needed other insights. I heard about PARTS, applied and came to Brussels. What attracted me to PARTS was, apart from the technical dance training, the emphasis on choreography and performance, and a different way of dealing with theory than what I’ve encountered in previous schools. In PARTS, the idea of theory was very open and wide, it became a possible source for performance. The combination of different trainings worked well for me – I never liked the idea of being stuck in one vision. Every training pushed me to the next, in that I felt I had to react to something specific, to search further, to find a different mode of thinking.

Your development as a dancer brought you to a different continent. How do you give shape to the distance between your place of origin and your current living context?

I really enjoy working and living here in Brussels, but since I graduated at PARTS, I feel the need to work and perform not only in Europe. My cultural background is partly where my interests and inspirations come from, so I need to stay in a close relation to that. Currently there are more possibilities to work with dance in Morocco: I am developing a good network and I work on different projects. One of them is an artistic and educational project founded by Meryem Jazouli in Casablanca. The goal of the project is for choreographers to work with young Moroccan dancers. We started with a workshop, from which I selected two dancers. Then I develop a performance with them. The trajectory of this creation is much longer than normal, because the work goes much more slowly. These dancers are not students anymore, but they didn’t get the professional training that dancers get in Europe for example. The idea of this project is that the dancers can work and learn at the same time.
In general, there are important developments going on in the dance field in Morocco. In 2016, I performed a short piece at the opening of the Marrakesh Film Biennale, which is quite a big event. This evening is broadcasted live on television nationwide and is watched by a lot of people. It’s a clear and important decision to place a contemporary dance piece at the opening, in front of so many eyes. It shows that there is an openness, and that the face of dance is changing, which will hopefully create different conditions for young Moroccan dancers in the near future.

Which are these interests and inspirations you talk about? Are there key principles in your artistic work that resonate through every creation?

An important question for me is what I can do with dance and choreography as tools to go outside of dance and choreography as disciplines. I’m interested in exploring the knowledge of body and movement to produce new things and to relate to the surroundings differently. This question is present since the beginning of my artistic trajectory. And it brought other layers organically. For example, I started to be interested in building and constructing as actions, which took me to research into architecture and mathematics. In Arabic architecture, mathematics plays quite a symbolic role. From there I started developing ideas about the relationship between mind, body and spirit, which became an essential part of all my artistic work.

At Kaaitheater, you presented a solo, 55 (2014) and a quartet, 3600 (2015), which were the first and the second part of a trilogy. In May 2017, during Kunstenfestivaldesarts, you will present the final part, 7. What do you research in these works, and why in the format of a trilogy?

The trilogy format enables me to research a specific theme more deeply, and to underline the continuity in the work. The subject matter in general is the connection between the moving body and the construction and expression of architectural and sculptural forms, in relation to the idea of craftsmanship. I started with a solo, 55, in which I used my own (moving) body as a tool to create a structure, which became a drawing on the floor. Following this work, I wanted to collaborate with a group so that I could see the research resonate in the bodies of others and step out of the process and look at it from a distance. In 3600, along with three dancers, I started to build actual structures with bricks, to explore the movements and rhythms of construction as opposed to the movement that inhabits these structures. The title of the last part, 7, refers to the idea of the seven wonders of the ancient world. There will be six or seven performers on stage, so the scale will increase again. The work will concentrate on the idea of a wonder, a structure that is ‘larger than life’ or a fantasy, in relation to the human body that has stayed the same throughout history – an incredible and mysterious wonder in itself!

You mention craftsmanship – how does this idea appear in your performances thematically, and what is the relationship of this topic to your own practice as a dancer/choreographer?

The notion of craftsmanship was already there in 55 and 3600, but more as a hidden layer. In 7 it becomes very important and dominant. I realized that the connection between dance, construction and architecture lies precisely in this idea of crafting. I increasingly focus specifically on why it matters to do things with our hands and bodies and to make things exist in this way. I often speak of a dance, a choreography or a performance as an object, because I consider it to be something ‘crafted’, bodily. And craft, for me, is also related to time. In dance, or performance in general, the time it takes to actually make something is a specifically shared time between dancers and the audience. Maybe that is what remains of craftsmanship in our time, a direct and witnessed ‘crafting’, and in this way, a true understanding of effort and skill…

You present your work in different contexts – performing arts as well as visual arts for example. Do you have a specific desire to be active in the field of the visual arts and escape the black box of the theatre?

The black box is a very important space for me – a space I want to question by going out and in again. I’m interested in exploring the differences in performing inside and outside. The black box is a smart space, with a perspective and machinery that influences or directs the viewing. As soon as you step out, this changes completely. The tension between these different modes of viewing is something I take with me in the creation process. For example, I consciously made the solo 55 flexible. When I was creating this piece in the black box, I was already imagining other presentation contexts – locations outside of the black box, and not only in Europe. I made it flexible so it can travel and adapt to different situations easily.  

Scenographer Jozef Wouters said something very interesting about my work: that the objects I make with dance are always centered and not related to the walls or the edges of the theatre space. I think I do this in order not to feel fixed in a space, to transport the idea of flexibility into the nature of the work. Now for the new creation, 7, this will become an important question – how to increase the scale but keep this dynamic of flexibility… 

I don’t look for specific fields to perform in. The important thing for me is to have the freedom to be able to present in different contexts, and to be surprised as to how a context can add something to the work. For example, we just presented 3600 in the Leopold museum in Vienna. The surroundings or architecture we performed in resonated strongly with the work, which for me keeps the work very much alive and dynamic.

Context, surroundings and architecture are key worlds in your practice. Is the city of Brussels, in that sense, also a source of inspiration?

I’m interested in buildings and the use of space, so of course the city where I live, has an impact on my reflections. I see an interesting parallel between Marrakesh, where I grew up, and Brussels. In Marrakesh, a lot of the beauty of the city and the architecture are hidden. The façade of a building does not reveal or represent what is inside. Sometimes I feel the same way about Brussels. You have to look through the chaos or even ugliness, to see the beauty of it. I find that interesting and inspiring! Both cities are for me as well very easy to become part of. You can wander around and disappear, you become part of the space itself. 



Radouan Mriziga in conversation with Esther Severi (dramaturge Kaaitheater)