“Dancing the Mind” Reflections on Nacera Beleza at PICA’s 2013 TBA Festival

Originally published with Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

If Peace could dance, it took the stage in act one of Nacera Belaza’s Le Trait Solos & Le Temps Scellé. It was the highest mind, the wisest part of us all, spinning around and around in even, rhythmic turns. It began with no suggestion that it might remain exactly as it was: a single gesture, a solo movement, for minutes on end.When Nacera started turning, her arms out-stretched in a firm line, we may have all expected something more. More variation. But this was not meant for quick pleasure. This was a meditation, as if Thich Nhat Hanh had transformed his walking meditations into circular movements; turning and turning in reverence like a Buddhist whirling dervish. The very act of watching Nacera turn, her hair, hands, and dark robes caressed by a silver, moon-like light, nudged each mind in the audience into a state of meditative repose.

It was a nudge, not forced. The boredom and anxious restlessness of some audience members certainly lasted throughout the full dance, but for others, it gave way to quiet, and then even joy. Amusement, like watching the better person win an argument when it wasn’t expected. If she succeeded, we would all be the better for it. It took patience at first, but watching her became like sitting by the ocean on a temperate day, observing single waves come to shore in regular, expected iterations. It is not fast paced or exciting, not a spectacle from which to gain quick thrills, but it will alter you if you let it, and you will be glad you stayed.

NacŽra Belaza / Le Trait, 2012

photo by David Balicki

In act two, Nacera and her sister, Dalila, perform with remarkable precision not the wholeness of human consciousness, but its fragmented nature. They take the stage separately, then come together to reflect what seems the split mind, the plurality of consciousness, and the madness that lingers within. Their clothing is no longer the dark, Zen-like coverings from act one. Now, they wear oversized, gray sweatshirts and pants. I find myself imagining lost, lonely prisoners, and homeless people muttering to themselves on the street. But their depictions are no less beautiful than in the first dance. Their portrayal remains utterly reverential, still seeing the peace in it all: a crack addict at the height of bliss, or a person lost to psychosis but deeply engaged with her world of gods. It is suffering, but it is also the inner life in its riches, not to be judged entirely by what we can see from the outside.

The movements in this act remain un-hurried and centralized, and still lit as if by the night’s full harvest moon. This is not the modern neurotic mind being portrayed, as is common, for better or worse, in much contemporary art. It is still ancient. A timeless kind of madness. Nacera and Dalila’s heads move as if they are denser, filled with competing thoughts. Their necks sweep close to the shoulder in stiff postures, remaining rigidly extended backwards, like another arm pulling away from the body. These are the movements of people who have whole villages in dialogue inside their minds. The physical rhythm is no longer consistent and silent. Movements are interrupted, unexpected and inconsistent but transfixing and delicate just the same.

Nacera and Dalila’s dedication to their craft is awe inspiring, as is their precision and endurance. This is not a show that will leave you ready to party, but its power to transform you may rival any other.

Photo by GK Wilson

Satya Byock is a Portland psychotherapist specializing in dream work and Jungian psychology for individuals in the first half of adulthood. She recently delivered a workshop at PICA on the Language of the Unconscious Mind as part of the C’mon Language series.

Originally published with Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

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