NYU Abu Dhabi to challenge audiences with new dance show Corps Extremes

Choreographed by French-Algerian Rachid Ouramdane, the production explores the lives of extreme athletes

Corps Extremes looks at the fearless lives of extreme athletes and notions of risk. Photo: Pascale Cholette
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Within the bowels of Chaillot National Theatre in Paris lies a stunning space.

It is a cavernous hall used for rehearsals with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the sprawling gardens of Jardins Trocadero and the shimmering Eiffel Tower.

Theatre director and French-Algerian choreographer Rachid Ouramdane meets The National here to illustrate the approach to his craft.

“You know, it's amazing how dance is present in all aspects of society, from advertising to fashion, cinema and TikTok,” he says, while peering out of the window at the cars darting across the Avenue du President Wilson.

“You can even compose a choreography for this landscape — the movement of the cars and the kids playing in the garden. If you add music and present it in a certain way it becomes a piece of art. This shows how choreography can speak beyond the dance world.”

And with his latest work, Corps Extremes, Ouramdane looks at the fearless lives of extreme athletes.

Being staged at the NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre on Friday and Saturday, the production features aerial dance sequences in which the ensemble cast test their physical and mental strength.

Matched with audio commentary of these thrill-seeking athletes recalling some of their death-defying escapades, the production has some cast members scaling the walls of the theatre and balancing on a tightrope.

“This project is based on the idea of extreme practice, and how people can transform themselves by dealing with certain notions of risk,” Ouramdane says.

“It is not really so much about dance, but about how we can transform ourselves by facing risk and going beyond the practices of our daily life.”

Born in Algeria in 1971, Ouramande migrated with his family to France as a child, where he got into modern dance through hip-hop.

Through his own company L'A and eventually as Chaillot National Theatre director from 2021, Ouramande created genre bending and introspective works, exploring themes of identity, memory and the human body.

“What I have learnt through my artistic journey is that fragility is often perceived as a weakness,” he says.

“With Corps Extremes I was researching and surrounding myself with all these extreme sports athletes engaged in these intense practices and how they can be viewed as being crazy.

“Where in reality they just have a different relationship with risk, and it is by doing that they can face the difficulties of what they are doing with strength.”

Produced as a part of French jewellery house Van Cleef and Arpels’ international performance programme Dance Reflections, Ourmande hopes Corps Extremes challenges perceptions of what the art form can offer today.

“I don't want the audience to get used to the routine,” he says. “My focus is to bring something new and unexpected because these are the moments where choreography can really be something amazing and powerful.”

Corps Extremes will be performed at NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre on Friday and Saturday. 7.30pm. Tickets are Dh54 and available at abu-dhabi.platinumlist.net

Updated: May 11, 2023, 1:46 PM