Dancing the Hardware: Rachid Ouramdane’s Embodied Performance

Ashley Ferro-Murray

PhD Candidate, University of California, Berkeley

“So by ‘networks’ we mean any system of interrelationality, whether biological or informatic, organic or inorganic, technical or natural – with the ultimate goal of undoing the polar restrictiveness of these pairings.” [1]

In the solo, Far…, French-Algerian choreographer and performer Rachid Ouramdane dances within and manipulates a network of electrical wires that are systematically placed and coiled across a black box stage. He uses narrative, poetry, and dance to contextualize the wire in terms of global connectivity – the wire as a visualization of material hardware supports the international exchange of goods, biomedical wires and practices, the laying of geographical borders, and the line of connection between subjects of different diasporas. Moving beyond connectivity, however, Ouramdane also contextualizes the wire in terms of the electric shock torture of his father’s colonized body in the French-Algerian War. In contrast to global connectivity, the wire as torture apparatus represents Ouramdane’s father’s inability to exchange information. Representing both exchange in global connectivity and a lack thereof in Ouramdane’s family’s history with shock torture and colonialism, the wire makes visible the relationship between utopian ideas of free-flowing information exchange in a contemporary global economy with realities of inhibited movement in the colonial context.

In this essay, I focus on the moments in Far… when Ouramdane carefully situates the wire as figuring a network of contemporary interrelationality. I read three distinct contexts for the wire: that of colonial torture, that of material connectivity in the global economy, and that of immaterial diasporic exchange. I explore how Ouramdane’s dance with the wire, a motif that is present throughout the narrative arc of Far…, physicalizes the complexities of the contemporary global network and reveals how the body must be regarded as a node in the literal and figurative wiring of contemporary systems.

Wiring the body and the immobility of the wire

Far… begins with a large video projection of Ouramdane’s mother. Ouramdane, alone on a black box theater stage, stands with his back to the audience as he listens to the elderly woman describe her husband’s (Ouramdane’s father) body being tied and shocked by electrical torture.

“They’d force him to fill up with water and then they’d flatten him. They’d shock him with electricity to make him talk. They’d tie down his foot…his big toe…and then hook him up with electrical wires to make him talk.” [2]

After Ouramdane’s mother calmly finishes her story, Ouramdane’s big toe reaches over and presses down on a stompbox, a type of effects pedal. Black wires strewn across the black marley stage connect several stompboxes to a system of stage effects for Far… [3]

Fig. 1. Loin… (Far…), 2008, Rachid Ouramdane, Performance, © Patrick Imbert (Used with permission).

Fig. 1. Loin… (Far…), 2008, Rachid Ouramdane, Performance, © Patrick Imbert (Used with permission).

The wires that would have blended into the stage as theater hardware pop into view as Ouramdane’s mother brings them into focus with her story of wired electric shock torture. Ouramdane’s contact with the pedal swiftly triggers a video projection and sound of a running waterfall. The dancer stands on the dimly lit stage and loosely sways back and forth to embody the image of the water. The conjoining of Ouramdane’s big toe with the wired stage system, as well as the watery rhythm of his movement poignantly parallel his mother’s narrative of his fathers’ tortured body.

Fig. 2. Loin… (Far…), 2008, Rachid Ouramdane, Performance, © Patrick Imbert (Used with permission).

Fig. 2. Loin… (Far…), 2008, Rachid Ouramdane, Performance, © Patrick Imbert (Used with permission).

After Ouramdane establishes his physical connection to the torture devices used on his father, he retrieves a small flashlight from the stage and holds the light to his face as he listens. The lamp resembles an interrogation spotlight and transfers the gravity of the father’s interrogation onto Ouramdane’s face. With the light blinding him, the dancer moves his face in and out of the beam of the flashlight, slowly turning his head to shield his eyes from the intensity of the light. Like his contact with the stompbox and his sway with the water, Ouramdane’s movement with the light connects him to his father’s experience – but only figuratively. Ouramdane’s ability to move his head from side-to-side and to freely avoid the beam of light physicalizes his actual separation from the colonialism, war, and torture that defines his family’s history; the separation is both generational and geographical. Embodying his family story, Ouramdane performs a postcolonial dance that is at once in relation to, and separate from, the past.

Using live dance as a means for exploring a personal relationship to his family’s colonial history, Ouramdane implicates his own body in a system of material technologies of torture. Ouramdane’s reliance on material signifiers might be understood to permit him to “exploit” what Galloway and Thacker define as societies of control, those contemporary societies that are structured by distributed and immaterial networks. [4] Ourmdane’s physical connection to the wire, a symbol for the torture apparatus, tethers him to the materiality of colonial history.

Franz Fanon might warn against Ouramdane’s performance as detrimental to a possibility for revolutionary futures. Fanon explains, “The immobility to which the native is condemned can only be called in question if the native decides to put an end to the history of colonialism. […] A world divided into compartments, a motionless […] world.” [5] Fanon concerns himself with the history of colonialism as a continued compartmentalization of colonial immobility, and any continuation of or connection to this immobility hinders Fanon’s call for “revolutionary action.” Rather than put an end to his history with colonialism as Fanon calls for, Ouramdane choses to reanimate his father’s story. He literally connects his body to his family history via the touch of the toe to the network of staged wires. The complex way in which Ouramdane manipulates the wiring of colonial history and contemporary dance, however, could be said to exploit or to rewire the very compartmentalization and immobility that so worried Fanon.

Ouramdane does not simply place himself in the context of his father’s story, and his contact with the materiality of the wired system that surrounds him is not absolute. When Ouramdane makes contact with the wired stage system of Far…, he is already in the process of breaking the contact by lifting his toe from the pedal. As with the interrogation light, Ouramdane is at once in relation to, and distanced from, the physical pain of the colonial story. Miming his swaying inside and outside of the beam of the light, Ouramdane also moves away from the wires, quite literally, as he lifts his foot from the pedal. Thus, while Ouramdane performs in the memory field of material tools of the colonial situation, his movements provide him the means to move into a potentially distinct future. The relationship between colonized body movement and history is particularly compelling from Darieck Scott’s perspective that Fanon’s relationship to the past can be counterlinear “insofar as the linear as a key component of temporality too often helps buttress the overly determinative powers of a miserable ‘burning past’ of conquest and enslavement.” [6] Scott suggests that, for Fanon, there are two pasts; Fanon references not only the enslaved traumatic past, but also the past “being made (and ever receding) in the now,” which Scott suggests has the capacity to reconfigure the traumatic past. [7] As Ouramdane illustrates in Far…, the ephemerality of movement elicits a moving through the present whereby the present is always already past. This is not to suggest that the lifting of the toe in a contemporary dance is akin to revolutionary action in a colonial situation, but only that movement represents a simultaneous making contact with, and breaking contact from, a colonized history that Ouramdane navigates in Far…. It is at once in the present and in the past, materially and immaterially connected.

When wires move things, or material connectivity in the global economy

While Ouramdane clearly intends to present the wire in the context of torture, he also remains acutely aware of the contemporaneous meaning that wires bring to the stage. Especially considering Ouramdane’s identity as a western contemporary dance artist performing on a traditional western stage in the twenty first century, the wire retains its value as performance apparatus and also as a symbol of connectivity in a digital global era. As Far… progresses it becomes clear that the wire as torture device is significant to Ouramdane only insofar as the wire representative of Ouramdane’s body simultaneously navigates a relationship to Algeria and to France.

When the video of Ouramdane’s mother fades to black, Ouramdane presses his foot against a stompbox for the second time. This time, Ouramdane holds a microphone in his right hand and its coiled cord in his left. Ouramdane lays the wire across the stage as he recites a poem.

Fig. 3. Loin… (Far…), 2008, Rachid Ouramdane, Performance, © Patrick Imbert (Used with permission).

Fig. 3. Loin… (Far…), 2008, Rachid Ouramdane, Performance, © Patrick Imbert (Used with permission).

In the poem, Ouramdane links contemporary global exchange (imports and tourism) with the local (shoeshine man and sweeper) and with the personal (the amputation of a leg and family) to weave disparate networks of relationality into one web of connectivity, held together by his physical laying of the electrical wire. The electrical cord that first signifies shock torture, for example, visualizes a ‘border’ when Ouramdane speaks about borders mapped by war and the French division of land. The connection between Ouramdane’s flesh and the wire also implicates Ouramdane’s body into the content of his poem. The dancing body navigates the systems that Ouramdane maps on the stage and further physicalizes the networks that the dancer describes in the poem.

When Ouramdane lays physical wiring across the stage, he reminds his audience that the networks he describes are grounded in material hardware. He mentions the visa, for example, to signal the physical protocol for traveling between places in contrast with the digital tourism of online ‘travel.’ Thus, while he gestures toward global networked exchange and connectivity – a contemporary reality based in the virtuality of the Internet – the types of exchange that Ouramdane lists are material ones. Ironically, Ouramdane includes the digital network only by omission. Rather than allowing his colonial history to be relegated to the realm of materiality as distinct from contemporary Internet networks, Ouramdane routes contemporary connectivity via the material wire and the body to illustrate how contemporary systems are, in fact, also material.

Ouramdane’s focus on the materiality of global exchange is sensitive to potential inequities in online cultures. Some media scholars such as Mark Poster suggest that networked society and the digital era result in a globalization and diaspora of digital selves. The Internet, Poster suggests, liberates the so-called “digital self” from colonial boundaries, and enables one to make or refashion the self in relation to what Poster refers to as “post-postcoloniality.” [8] In other words, because a user is not tied to his or her physical body or geographic place when online, he or she can – assuming ample access to the Internet – move freely without the constraints of oppressive and restrictive systems such as colonialism. In this body-less conception of the digital, however, Ouramdane would lose his race, gender, age, and abilities that come with the material conditions of the body, material conditions that Ouramdane was particularly careful to present at the beginning of Far…. On the contrary, as Ouramdane very clearly explains in his poem, the materiality of his physical skin is significant. “I felt like a brother despite my fair skin which makes me white here and assimilated over there…” Ouramdane acknowledges how he is interpellated differently based on the color of his skin and the physical place that his material body inhabits in a way that vastly undercuts any utopian or universalizing discourse of a strictly digital self.

As media scholar Lisa Nakamura explains, “the Internet is a place where race happens.” [9] Nakamura’s analysis of early advertisements for networks reveals how democratic ideas about contemporary global networks were born of utopian dreams like Poster’s, for which race, gender, disability and age do not limit the body. [10] In this case of what Nakamura terms a “postcorporeal subjectivity,” Internet users are enticed to reify the immobility of the colonized body.

“Networking ads that promise the viewer control and mastery over technology and communications discursively and visually link this power to a vision of the other which, in contrast to the mobile and networked tourist/user, isn’t going anywhere.” [11]

The way Nakamura describes networking advertisements as imposing immobility on the other is not dissimilar from Fanon’s colonialist immobility, albeit within the context of contemporary global networks of exchange. While the mode of colonial movement has shifted from a physical immobility to a virtual one, in both instances the immobile subject is the othered body, who is left out of movement and, therefore, out of networked exchange. Without diminishing the important distinction between physical violence of immobility in colonial Algeria and virtual violence of immobility online, the relative resonance between the two circumstances becomes particularly significant in Far…. The historical hardwire used to torture Ouramdane’s father and that Ouramdane presents as a symbol for colonial immobility still has the potential to impose a contemporary form of immobility on the other when the meaning of the wire shifts to signify global networks for exchange.

It is precisely for this reason that the embodied interrogation of networked globalism is integral to Ouramdane’s exploration. Instead of relying on the Internet to liberate himself from the material conditions of his skin, as Poster’s proposition of “post-postcoloniality” might suggest, Ouramdane insists on the specificity and materiality of place to legitimate and actualize any connection to his identity. He embodies his story to lend it the physical and material specificity of a raced, gendered, classed, and aged body. Working against the disembodied democracy that Nakamura critiques as having structured early images of the network, Ouramdane’s movements remain in the realm of embodiment and material signifiers.

At the beginning of Far…, Ouramdane signaled the materiality of colonial history by touching and releasing the stompbox. Now he signals the materiality of global exchange by grasping the wire only to let it go and lay it on the floor. The laying of the wire is again a moment of contact that is always already an opportunity for releasing contact, for moving away from. The ephemerality of Ouramdane’s movement ensures his ability to simultaneously connect and disconnect with the materiality of the network, or, in this case, the wire.

The body as hardware

While Ouramdane does not directly invoke Internet connectivity in Far…, he also chooses not to reject contemporary media or to propose his physical body as an antidote to the problematic and potentially colonizing potential of the global network. This would only re-fetishize Ouramdane’s body as offline and give into colonized immobility, thus failing to respond to Fanon’s call for action. I have argued that, while Ouramdane insists on the materiality of the network in Far…, his dance accomplishes a liminality between material (as the dancer presses his toe against the pedal and grasps the wire) and immaterial (the lifting of the toe from the pedal and the laying of the wire on the marley). It is not until the third scene in Far… when Ouramdane has established a strong connection to materiality, however, that the dancer shifts his perspective to directly approach the immateriality of a contemporary network.

After Ouramdane tells his personal story with his mother’s memory and his own poetry, he introduces stories by other children of diaspora to accompany his narrative. Again, Ouramdane’s foot taps on the stompbox. The pedal triggers audio of stories by narrators born to immigrant families and others who moved to a Western country as a baby. One narrator is Asian American, another speaks in French about a family history in the Vietnam War, and another in English about the same war. While distinct from Ouramdane’s cultural heritage, each narrator speaks of placelessness, a feeling that their identities are fragmented across generation and place. The collection of tales finds cohesion in each narrators’ relationship to mobility across borders.

In this scene, the wire fades into the black marley flooring. Its disappearance highlights the immateriality of the contemporary exchange. Each distinct diasporic narrative is stripped of the meticulous specificity that Ouramdane reinforces with material signifiers at the beginning of Far…. The audience does not see, let alone share, a space with the other narrators, so their stories remain disembodied. By themselves, these narrated tales might perform Poster’s post-postcolonialism. The stories become a decontextualized and collective story of global diaspora, and exhibit a defining characteristic of Galloway and Thacker’s theory of networks: the network form, they write, is “bent on eradicating the importance of any distinct or isolated node.” [12] Together, the stories make up one cohesive, yet still complex, system of disembodied relationality.

It is within the context of the first two scenes of Far… that this last scene is most significant. Ouramdane’s physicality and the materiality that he dances at the beginning of Far… contextualizes the disembodied network of diaspora. The presence of Ouramdane’s body illustrates the fact that each narrator is embodied somewhere, has his or her own distinct family past, and has an individual relationship to networks of global exchange – even as nodes in an immaterial network. As Galloway and Thacker propose for the network, Ouramdane’s body is at once material and immaterial and it is at once biological and informatic. In addition to the presence of Ouramdane’s body and his ephemeral movements, it is the information that Ouramdane’s body carries with it that participates in the material/immaterial structuring of Ouramdane’s contemporary networks. Ouramdane’s genetic connection to his parents’ past, the color of his skin, and the movement of his body is all information that, I suggest, literally hardwires his network. Ouramdane’s body is integral to the complex relations of diaspora, being interpellated one way ‘here’ and another way ‘there,’ and the relationship that one’s colonial past has to a networked present. This is not to say that the body must always be present online. Nor is to suggest that the body should enter the immaterial spaces of online networks in order to realize its full capacity in contemporary systems. Instead, we might consider Ouramdane’s narrative as a kind of corporeal informatics whereby the body functions as hardware to the contemporary network.


1. Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker, The Exploit: A Theory of Networks. (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 28.
2. Rachid Ouramdane. Far…, Bonlieu Scène nationale Annecy, Annecy, 2008.
3. Each wire was connected to megaphones and stompboxes. The megaphones were staged to stand tall, ready to project up and out into the space as if broadcasting something important, whereas the stompboxes were small black metal pedals that blended into the floor to trigger and control stage effects.
4. Galloway and Thacker, The Exploit, 5.
5. Fanon has been widely criticized for his anti-historicist perspective since, as Hortense Spillers has argued and I suggest Ouramdane performs, certain narratives choose their subject whether or not he chooses them. Darieck Scott writes a comprehensive literature review of critiques of Fanon’s anti-historicism, including a synopsis of Spiller’s perspective. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 2004), 15. Darieck Scott, Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination (New York: New York UP, 2010), 43.
6. Scott, Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination, 52.
7. Ibid.
8. Mark Poster, Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Mechanics (North Carolina: Duke UP, 2006).
9. Nakamura, Lisa. Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet. 1st ed. New York: Routledge, 2002, xi.
10. Ibid, 88.
11. Ibid, 90.
12. Galloway and Thacker, The Exploit, 55.


Ashley Ferro-Murray is a choreographer and a doctoral candidate in performance studies with a designated emphasis in new media at the University of California, Berkeley. Her dissertation research focuses on media-based choreography to consider the importance of movement in the construction of digital subjectivities. Ferro-Murray has published book reviews in The Drama Review and Dance Research Journal. She has given talks at conferences including The Society for Dance History Scholars, Congress on Research and Dance, Performance Studies International, and American Society for Theater Research. Ferro-Murray has also been featured as a contributor on -empyre- new media list serve and In Media Res blog. Ferro-Murray’s choreography has been produced by Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; University of California, Berkeley; The Milk Bar in Oakland, and ZERO1 Biennial in San Jose, California.