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In Fouad Boussouf’s ‘Näss,’ communal unity and imbalance create an emotionally riveting tour de force

Dancers perform the US premiere of Fouad Boussouf's “Näss” at the Institute of Contemporary Art on Friday as part of Global Arts Live.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

With its propulsive communal energy, Fouad Boussouf’s choreography seems as steeped in ancient traditions as it is driven by contemporary urgency. The rhythmic spirit of his native Morocco is tightly knit into the heart of his work. Yet in a deliberate multicultural fusion, he weaves in the athletic acrobatics of capoeira and new circus, threaded through with a hip-hop style anchored in African tribal roots, and framed with distinctive theatricality.

On Friday night, Global Arts Live presented the US premiere of Boussouf’s “Näss” to a sold-out crowd. It was a visceral and emotionally riveting tour de force of physical prowess, commitment, and stamina by the seven dazzlingly talented men of his company, newly renamed Le Phare (The Lighthouse) from the earlier Massala Company. (Boussouf was recently appointed director of Le Phare, France’s national choreographic center of Le Havre-Normandie, which will be the company’s umbrella going forward.)


“Näss” (“people” in Arabic) illumines a kind of microcosm of community — its power in unity as well as its messy, sometimes fractious imbalance. While no clear narrative overlays the 55-minute work, it is rich with human drama. “Näss” begins in silhouette, the men barefoot, in T-shirts and simple pants. Stretched in a line across the stage, they are accompanied by a cacophonous rumble punctuated by garbled voices. As pounding drums come to the fore sonically, the men take up the pulsing, bouncing step that becomes the movement through line. They shift forward and back, side to side, creating eye-catching patterns and lines. As they coalesce into a circle, recalling communal folk dances and ancient rituals, the dancers finally acknowledge one another — seven individuals become a group.

Dancers during Fouad Boussouf's Näss at the ICA BostonCarlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

The men spin and tumble, lunge, and stop on a dime with mercurial shifts of weight, limbs jaggedly akimbo. They flip mid-air and balance improbably on heads and hands. Arms slice, fling, and thrash, occasionally reaching out beseechingly or covering their ears to the score’s thundering beat. At one point, hops and leaps with heads thrown back suggest a kind of frenzied ceremonial ecstasy. Another section turns more threatening and ominous; the dancers pull one another’s T-shirts, creating a tangle of bodies. Stretched tautly outward, shirts connect the dancers as both tether and lifeline. Gathered over heads, they become executioner’s hoods, masking faces, revealing bare torsos that suggest both vulnerability and muscle.


From out of the group burst couplings and confrontations, and solitary dancers explode into vivid solos. Loïc Elice skitters across the stage with lightning footwork and stark isolations. Maxime Cozic’s cat-like, floor-based solo was a masterpiece of controlled contortion, feet flexing and pointing to lead limbs into crags and curves.

However, all Boussouf’s dancers deserve immense credit. The collective energy of their performance is staggering, funneling into an irresistible sequence of syncopated stomping, amplified to highlight the slap of bare feet on the floor. And by the work’s end, they seem to shed any undercurrent of violence to become a unified community once more, bouncing in unison. Even so, as the light dims and the music fades, one after another strives to spring higher than the rest, breaking from the pack, reaching for the sky.

Fouad Boussouf’s “Näss”

Presented by Global Arts Live at ICA Boston, Oct. 14 (repeated Oct. 15)

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.