The recent European avant-garde performances at the Southbank Centre are the kind of works that tend to veer between the excruciating and the revelatory; Loin, a solo by the French performer Rachid Ouramdane, leans towards the latter. More an installation than a dance piece, Loin is based on Ouramdane’s memories of his Algerian parents, and on his travels in south-east Asia. A documentary seam runs through it: voiceovers of his mother recalling the torture of her husband by the French; the brutality he encountered and practised in the French army in Indochina; video footage of war veterans scarred by the knowledge that they had killed in order to survive.
Words define the field, but it is unspeakability that powers the piece; one woman, having recounted her story, says: “That is why we don’t talk about it.” Ouramdane first appears as a hooded youth, mutely facing the image of his mother; later, he patrols the stage perimeter like an impatient guard. In the few dance passages, he is stunning, transfiguring body-popping moves into convulsive spasms of electrocution, or undulating with a shirt wrapped around his head in a queasy intimation of faceless, sexualised bondage. When he does speak, it is in a barely intelligible rush, like scrambled poetry.
For all its bleakness, it has an ineffable beauty, especially when the human presence disappears. Loudspeakers are left rotating on stage; faces depart from the screens, leaving images of empty roads, waterfalls, fish, fields – a peaceful world in which people are absent.