International Exposure 2009

December 9, 2009

International Exposure
Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre

Tel Aviv, Israel

December 9–13, 2009

Reviewed by Wendy Perron


Ohad Naharin’s
Hora. Photo by Gadi Dagon, Courtesy Batsheva.

This festival of bracing Israeli dance spanned 27 choreographers; I caught 11 of them. It concluded with Israel’s crowning glory, Batsheva Dance Company; other exciting pieces included Barak Marshall’s Rooster and Inbal Pinto’s Trout. (It was a week for animals.) There were also an intense effort to unify Jews and Arabs through dance from Arkadi Zaides, a light-and-color extravaganza from Rami Be’er of Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, a zany duet by Yasmeen Godder, and much more.

Loosely based on I. L. Peretz’s short story Bontsha the Silent, Rooster followed one hapless young man through a night of fitful dreams. The characters were as captivating as that more famous shtetl story, Fiddler on the Roof. The movement was terse, individual, urgent, as though this village were mysteriously compelled to go through certain rituals. Idan Porges, remarkable as the unremarkable Bontsha, led the group in rhythmic, almost mime-like gesture. He’s a thin rangy guy with purpose in his movements and an energetic innocence in his eyes.


Moments of lightness—as in Bontsha getting hoisted into the air and lying there comfortably with pillow, or a man huffing and puffing to produce an egg from his mouth—helped make this work enchanting. Another plus was the presence of the great Margalit Oved, who threaded through this dreamlike piece, offering Bontsha a music box or emitting a shrill lullaby. The image of rooster combs appeared small within the string of gestures the ensemble did (fingers on top of head like a crown), and large, as big purple feather fans snaking after the dancers. The collage of music—some klezmer and some ’40s jazz—added to the vintage feel, and helped make this a sad/funny/moving piece of dance theater.


Also dreamlike, but more formal and surreal, was Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak’s Trout. In a closed-off room with six inches of water on the floor, the performers waded or splashed vigorously. Again, the anti-hero was plagued by outside forces. Played by Ido Batash with a painfully rounded back, he trudged through the water, sometimes getting cornered by pairs of strange women. The live music from Norway’s Kitchen Orchestra, which began with the trumpet player fishing in the water, was beautiful, bold, and haunting. Stray people popped in and out of the doors, with our anti-hero desperately trying to keep them out. The only character who stayed mostly dry was a formal, serene woman, upright in a proper Elizabethan dress. She mumbled without opening her mouth, the sound growing to almost earthquake proportions. Although Batash wore a butcher’s apron (do butchers kill trout?), he embodied the terror of the hunted rather than the hunter. Trout was a piece of sharp contrasts that could infiltrate one’s dreams. At the end, lily pads floated out toward the audience.


Yasmeen Godder’s Love Fire, a wacky duet about a relationship, seemed to have neither love nor fire. Instead a huge stuffed animal (a lion, a pig?) lay on the stage and was eventually eviscerated (for our amusement?) by Godder’s partner, Eran Shanny. A series of waltzes on tape did nothing to make this situation more romantic, and it lost its way to such an extent that even the wacky parts didn’t register as wacky by the end.


Yossi Berg and Oded Graf created a quartet called 4 Men, Alice, Bach and the Deer. Again, a stuffed animal lay on the stage, this time at least identifiable as a deer. The four men, wearing crazy masks, crawled, jumped, and slithered, combining the sinister and the comic. The most startling moment came when one of them cut the invisible strings holding up the deer’s antlers, and its head suddenly drooped.


(An aside: It’s interesting that both these pieces listed dramaturges in the credits, and yet both were pretty opaque in terms of narrative clarity.)


Arkadi Zaides’ work in progress Quiet was almost unbearably intense. Four men, two Israeli and two Arab, seemed locked in either combat or some kind of brotherly tough love. What looked like praying close to the ground turned into a self-hating rage that another man tried to calm. As disturbing as it was, this piece has potential to be an artistic component of a peace process.


On the other end of the emotional spectrum was This Now Is, a sweet duet from Tami and Ronen Izhaki. All about kissing, it was fun and romantic, but had enough rhythmic wit to keep you guessing when and where the kiss would come.


Rami Be’er’s Infrared juxtaposed soldiers against creatures from the imagination, like a guy with a cushion-y humpback and a woman with a braid going past her ankles. The soldiers changed from blue to red to yellow skirted uniforms and engaged in luscious full-body movement. The costume designs (by Maor Tzabar) were magnificent, but the relationship between the soldiers and the creatures was not clear, and the episodes seemed unconnected. Outstanding dancers were Shay Partush, who had a forceful, slightly wild quality; and Yuko Harada, who danced a happy solo on the red floor as though it were sunny yellow.


A rousing finale to the whole week, Ohad Naharin’s new piece Hora jolted us with its apple green floor and walls—just the right color for this kinetically thrilling work. It had many of his signatures, like starting with all dancers facing front, crazed solos just this side of losing control, and hands held like paws. He built suspense so expertly that even when the dancers were absolutely still, you held your breath waiting to see what came next. Isao Tomita’s arrangements of theme music from movies like Star Wars and 2001, A Space Odyssey (with a sliver of Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun) made it feel familiar and fun without detracting from the amazing energy.


Naharin’s sense of theatrical timing is infallible. Just when you think it’s too intense, he lightens up. Just when you think you’ve seen enough solos, he launches into unison—and that unison is broken in crafty ways. There were wayward actions, like a single dancer crashing into an ongoing duet, or a threesome stubbornly slowing down while the eight other dancers are doing “follow the leader.” Each dancer was a strong individual, and by the end of this hour, you appreciated Rachael Osborne’s strength, Shachar Binyamini’s ferocity, Iyar Elezra’s sensuality, and Ian Robinson’s buoyancy. You grew attached to these people; their defiance got under your skin.


The styles of Israeli dancemakers vary, but they all share a certain groundedness—I saw lots of second-position pliés. The animal motif this year was indicative of how close to nature, and yet also how close to the realm of the ridiculous, many of them are. I found that Israeli choreographers are not interested in the kind of facileness, the reliance on technical virtuosity that many American choreographers share. You won’t see gratuitous six-o’clock extensions or triple pirouettes, or even rippling muscles à la Ailey dancers. What you do see is struggle, awkwardness, and a willingness to be raw.