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Compagnie La Baraka: Dance You Can Feel Free to Hate

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French Algerian dancer and choreographer Abou Lagraa doesn't mind if you hate his work, especially if you hate it for not telling a story in the manner of classical ballet. In a 2008 interview with a Czech arts website, he said, "People want to understand things but sometimes it's nice just to feel, and to like or not to like something. But to hate something is also good, because it gives you an emotion at least." Lagraa studied ballet in Lyon's National Conservatory of Dance, but since its founding in 1997, his group Compagnie La Baraka has adopted and integrated modern and hip-hop styles and also draws from Lagraa's North African roots.

Though he credits his classical training for providing him with key skills and knowledge, he has now largely set ballet aside.

Rather than telling stories on stage, which Lagraa considers "old-fashioned," he prefers to tackle the big questions with abstract choreography, "universal subjects like the human being, human relations..., our soul, our feelings, our way of thinking." He'd like to liberate audiences from a limited sensibility, to encourage a greater freedom of artistic expression and appreciation. His ensemble is as internationally diverse as his themes are universal, including dancers from Africa, South America, the United States, Asia, and Europe. Their divergent backgrounds add considerably to Lagraa's project, combining styles and cultures in a spirit of total open-mindedness.

Excerpts from A World in Itself

The Society for the Performing Arts will be presenting Lagraa's new work A World in Itself (Un monde en soi) on February 26, 8 p.m., at the Wortham Center's Cullen Theater, with the renowned Debussy String Quartet performing works by composers Webern and Cage, who were innovators in atonality, chance music, and experimentation. SPA Executive Director and CEO June Christensen first met Lagraa in 2008, and in three hours of conversation about his singular artistic vision, determined that "Houston audiences need to see this company." Her enthusiasm was then confirmed on seeing the group perform at the Kennedy Center's groundbreaking Arabesque Festival in 2009: Christensen called it "stunning."

Tickets range from $24-$54 and can be purchased online at www.spahouston.org, or by phone at 713-227-4772.

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