5. Backstage

The "mise-en-scène" of the repertory of the B'net Houariyat in the form of a concert-show presented to an audience of spectators from different cultural backgrounds, requires adjustments as regards the way in which the repertory itself is performed in the original situation of a party taking place in the Moroccan domestic context.

With reference to the organization of the stage space, the typical layout - with the women sitting on the ground forming a circle closed in on itself - has been slightly but significantly modified, to create a semicircle open toward the audience, to whom the gestural game of the percussionists-singers is aimed; the presence on stage of pilot-monitors helps to maintain synchronization, obtained in the local context by the close physical and visual contact offered to the performers by their position in a circle.

The B'net Houariyat on stage  (mov file: 490 kb, 5 sec) - Complete mov file 1800 kb, 18 sec)

The time necessary for a feast and related dancing reception, with breaks for refreshments and conversation, has obviously been compressed and adapted to the requirements of "spectacularization". The concert-show, which on a whole lasts approximately one hour and a half, presents in the first part pieces performed in the houari and hamada styles, moving progressively in a crescendo. In the most fervent moments the musicians stand up in turn to dance, reaching as far as the proscenium to involve the audience in a game of rhythm and movement. At the height of the first part, the B'net Houariyat stand up and place themselves in a line in front of the audience to play the more "modern" repertory in the cha`abi style: the standing position enables all five women to perform dance movements on the spot, while in turn one of the three soloist dancers performs at the center of the stage.

The total structure of the concert-show, codified in terms of time and spatial organization, remains nonetheless open with reference to the method and time of individual performances: the length and movements of the soloist dance depend on the temporary inspiration of the interpreter (who "improvises" on the wide range of traditional dance repertories) and on the response of the audience. The open structure puts the performers at ease, enabling them to maintain the atmosphere of spontaneity which characterizes a feast.

The immediateness of the give-and-take game established between the women on stage and their audience - and the shared partly-like feeling which derives from it - are the elements which connect the "spectacularization" with the original context and guarantee the success of this operation of "de-contextualization/re-contextualization". Ideed, in the local context a feast is an occasion for temporarily ending the social exclusion of women and the repression of the female body, which is by contrast exhibited without any shame even by women of an advanced age or evidently overweight. To dance during a feast means to offer one's dance to a friend, a relative, his/her family and all participants: this is an offer that livens up the atmosphere and brings joy. One of the terms defining `abat groups - groups of "women who play" - is aounniyat, "the women who lend a hand", an expression translating this sense of participation in domestic collective fun through the offer of dance and physical effervescence.

Moroccan women's ability to upturn through music and dance - on the occasion of feasts as well as in ritual practices - their condition of segregation and the repression of their bodies, enables an understanding of the reasons for their ability to "hold the stage", their apparent ease in front of a "foreign" audience, and the flexibility in relating to different contexts shown by the B'net Houariyat despite their being illiterate working-class semi-professionals with rather conservative customs (4).

With reference to internal group dynamics, the B'net Houariyat possess a further asset in the equal distribution of the singing and their roles on stage, which are egalitarian and based on horizontal interpersonal relations, in contrast to men's hierarchical relations.

Feelings of female solidarity and joie de vivre, expressed in the desire to have fun and make others enjoy themselves, are the reasons behind the B'net Houariyat's success and their ability to establish an immediate relationship with the audience. 

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