Nacera Belaza's Le Temps scellé, on at the Dance Centre through this Friday in a co-presentation with the PuSh Festival, is a subtle and hypnotic work that expands one's felt experience of time and space. Over the course of its 45 minutes, I was transported into a state of blissful and contemplative suspension, a floating of the mind and body above the dailiness and frenetic pace of clock and calendar time and into that strangely timeless present of performance.
The piece begins in semi-darkness. From this gloaming we catch glimpses of a figure slowly moving in space, the holographic outline of limbs and hips as much a denial as a confirmation of some embodied presence. As the intoxicating sound score (which layers gospel and rhythm and blues and chanting) starts to increase in volume, so does the light brighten and expand to fill more of the stage. Likewise Belaza's movements begin to take on more volume and energy, eddying out from her core in rhythmically undulating waves to fill the space around her. Grounding her practice in traditional Sufi movement philosophy, Belaza slows down and even deconstructs the turns of dervish dancing; but she doesn't abandon the centred axis of the body upon which those turns are based, nor the emptied out state of inner meditative awareness to which they are in service. However, just as we begin to give ourselves over to Belaza's lucubratory extension of this bodily embrace, she dials things down again, softening both the sound and lights.
It's at this point, when one might logically think the performance is over, that something magical happens. Belaza's sister Dalila slowly enters from upstage left, a lazily advancing spectral presence who, we soon discover, will take over Nacera's solo. Again, we are wont to doubt what we have just seen, but in the piece's third and final movement these two apparitions dance a duet together, their bodies now fully perceptually graspable--and as much because of how, up until this point, we have been made to register kinetically their absence as much as their presence.