Rahel Vonmoos, to find a place

Posted: November 10th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rahel Vonmoos, to find a place

Rahel Vonmoos, to find a place, Laban Theatre, November 7

The cast on the set of Rahel Vonmoos’ to find a place (photo: Antigone Avdi)

When the subject of a dance work in a theatre is something as disturbing and destabilizing as displacement, the context of the performance — from the lighting, the set and costumes, to the comfortable seats in a warm auditorium and the bar just outside the door — becomes a screen through which an audience experiences it. When this filter is accompanied by the choreographic device of gestural abstraction, the subject of the work finds itself even further removed from its source; a work on displacement itself becomes a displacement. This is the conundrum posed by Rahel Vonmoos’ to find a place, performed at the Laban Theatre on Tuesday and Wednesday night. Even if crisis is written into it in the form of the dis-ease of movement, the fragmented groupings, the dislocation of projected images and the collage of discordant sounds, the production values of to find a place are too refined and the choreography too beautifully performed by Helka Kaski, Luke Birch, Morrighan MacGillivray and Samuel Kennedy to allow an audience to get to grips with the emotional and psychological complexities of the humanitarian crisis it addresses.

Vonmoos’ use of filmed projections on sheets of stretched silicon works well with the danced action; the opening visual sequence shows a crowd of people walking to and fro like a flock of humanity, slowed down in close-up to aimlessness and indecision; displacement, they seem to say, is a wandering with no direction home. The silhouettes of the dancers merge with the projected figures like blank, anonymous shapes against a mediatized throng. Apart from this extended opening scene, subsequent images are of landscapes and abstracted architecture, powerful reminders of events and places that have passed into memory, that float like fragments across the staggered placement of screens. There is a sense of time passing in the way the projected images spill from the screens on to the performers in the present or run in the background like the past.

I begin looking for individual clues to what Vonmoos wants to convey, but I have to wait till the end and beyond to let the accumulated response to the moving images — both of the dancers and the projections — find their mark. In the short term there is certainly a sense of puzzlement and confusion, which are states that arise from the condition of displacement, but it would be too easy to confuse this with a response to the work. Vonmoos has transferred the effects of displacement on to a painterly stage and turned them into symbols and marks on an artist’s canvas, yet the audience does not have the luxury of sitting in front of dance in the same way one can look at a painting (or listen to a recording of music) over time. Without a narrative, to find a place has to rely on constant movement — the essence of displacement, physically and psychologically — to convey meaning. Vonmoos also has the dancers suspend and modify the silicon sheets, tying them up, crumpling them or holding up a corner as if to sweep something underneath. If the projected images are memories, they are constantly vulnerable to disruption. The sheets also take on the roles of temporary bed sheets, shrouds and clothing.

There is a dry heat in the atmosphere of the work, where heat is not the kind in which to luxuriate but where you stand still to avoid exhaustion, where you get frustrated, in which you toss and turn at night. In this way Vonmoos imagines dis-ease and its effect on the body. The approach reminds me of Israeli choreographer, Arkadi Zaides, who studied the movements of Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian farmers and their lands seen in images filmed by the Palestinians themselves; against the film footage he takes up these same stances and gestures on stage as a choreographic form to show the effects of cultural aggression on the body. Vonmoos avoids the specific political questions but in abstracting the dis-ease of movement in the face of displacement, she asks the audience to re-translate the affect of the choreographic images to sense their original intent. It is a lot to ask of an audience or perhaps, in our relatively sheltered society, too little.

I can’t help noticing (not for the first time) that in the auditorium of one of London’s most prestigious contemporary dance conservatories with high enrolment figures, the audience is sparse. A work of art is only able to speak to those who are willing to experience it and to find a place has plenty to say; if the students who file through Laban don’t engage with the works that are shown there, what does that say about their engagement with the art they are studying or about Laban’s engagement in presenting them?

Arkadi Zaides: Archive

Posted: February 1st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Arkadi Zaides: Archive

Arkadi Zaides, Archive, Salle Maurice Béjart, Théâtre National de Chaillot, Paris, January 29

Arkadi Zaides in front of the screen in Archive (photo: Jean Coutourier)

Arkadi Zaides in front of the screen in Archive (photo: Jean Couturier)

The Palais de Chaillot in Paris is where, on December 10 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Palais de Chaillot is now the Théâtre National de Chaillot, and in its basement theatre — Salle Maurice Béjart — Arkadi Zaides is performing Archive in which he borrows a Palestinian perspective to view transgressions of human rights by Israeli soldiers and settlers against the indigenous Palestinian population. The significance of the place is not lost on Zaides but he doesn’t reveal it until the post-show discussion: the context of Archive is undoubtedly human rights but it is not the main focus of this work.

Zaides is not an Israeli by birth, having emigrated from what is now Belarus, where he was the only Jew in his school class, to Israel at the age of 11 where he was the only immigrant in his class. To better assimilate into his new environment he joined at the age of 13 an Israeli folk dance group and later trained in contemporary dance where he developed his individuality. In 1999 he became a member of the Batsheva Ensemble and joined the main company in 2001 until 2004. In a country where military service is obligatory, he refused to join the army. It was a decision he admits with characteristic understatement that required a lot of determination to sustain. Zaides is thus an insider on the outside or an outsider on the inside, which is what gives Archive its trenchant focus. Now an independent choreographer living in Tel Aviv, Zaides performs his works in Israel and is often invited to perform throughout Europe (though not yet in the UK), in North and South America and in Asia.

Like the late Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writing about the gulags, Zaides is not saying anything about Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians other than what the Israelis themselves are saying with their own bodies. The archival film that is the starting point of Archive is rough footage of transgressions by Israeli settlers and soldiers seen through the lens of cameras given to Palestinian citizens by the Israeli Human Rights Organisation B’Tselem for the express purpose of documenting them. Zaides is in turn looking at the corporal and vocal gestures of the aggressors and exploring the genesis of those same gestures — stone throwing, sheep scattering, olive branch destruction, verbal and physical intimidation, among others — in his own body. The result is visceral, poignant and disturbing to the point you wish it would stop. That is almost certainly what Zaides wants to achieve.

Two weeks after the brutal attack on a Jewish supermarket in Paris, there were efforts by Jewish right-wing activists to prevent the show from opening, but thanks to the stand of theatre director Didier Deschamps, the eight sold-out performances have, in the spirit of Charlie, gone ahead as planned. Zaides is used to confrontation; he now sees it as part of his work. Performing Archive in Israel (most recently in Tel Aviv) he has met with opposition, sometimes physical, from those who find his ethical stand politically unacceptable. He has discovered attempts to shut down his funding sources in Israel and has experienced riots in Jerusalem at a talk he was giving about his work. But there is something about Arkadi Zaides that will not back down because he believes so strongly in what he is doing. You only have to look at his eyes to know that. He is not an angry man pointing self-righteously at others but uses his own body as a mirror to the society in which he lives. In Paris it is the first time he has performed this many performances together and the duress of taking on gestures of violence is taking its toll on his own body and mind.

During the performance he first mimics the actions of selected individuals in the footage (and there are only Israelis in the footage; the Palestinians are behind the cameras); then he rewinds the clip and plays it again embodying in front of the screen the gestures he sees on it. He has seen the clips many times and has studied them assiduously; he has seen hundreds of hours of footage from about 4,500 hours held in the B’Tselem archive. He then shuts off the projector and repeats the actions as if they are a short choreographic phrase. Remarkably there are recognizable elements of what we in the UK might call Israeli choreography. As this sequence of footage and gestural extraction progresses Zaides adds to the physical phrases vocal elements (shouting, taunts and other fragments from the recorded footage) that he vocalizes and captures on a digital loop, accumulating over the course of Archive a choreography of violence, of brutality, of inhumanity that in its starkness is deeply disturbing. This, Zaides suggests, is what we are doing to our bodies when we take on these forms of aggression. As anthropological as it is polemical, Archive takes dissent to a choreographic level that is neither abstract nor pure imitation but part of what Zaides calls his search for the real choreography: is it what we see in the theatre or is it manifest outside? Archive blurs the distinction between the two and in doing so makes a powerful, devastating statement.


International Exposure 2014, Tel-Aviv

Posted: December 23rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on International Exposure 2014, Tel-Aviv

International Exposure 2014

I am very grateful to Hillel Kogan who initially suggested I attend this festival and to Rachel Grodjinowsky of the Suzanne Dellal Centre for making it possible.

Anyone among London dance audiences who may feel (like me) they know Israeli dance through the works of Israeli choreographers presented in the UK may well have been astonished by the wealth of imagination and beauty on display at International Exposure 2014 in Tel Aviv’s Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theater* at the beginning of December. Open to the world, International Exposure is a showcase of new choreographic work by Israeli choreographers living in Israel.

Culture defines the way we imagine a country and the view of Israel culled from the works I have seen by Hofesh Shechter, Itzik Galili and Uri Ivgi is one of tension and oppression, an image corroborated by news reports of violence and political intransigence. I was expecting to see more of this kind of choreography in Tel Aviv but the first evening of works by Ohad Naharin, Project Secus, for the Batsheva Ensemble shows Israeli dance has moved on. Yes, there is an intensity in the work but one that comes from the dancers, and the tension is in the dynamics of the choreography. Each of the four works demonstrates the fluidity of the dancers’ bodies and the poetic imagination of Naharin, although the final work, Secus, caps them all with its sensuality and complexity. With Tel Aviv enjoying a late summer I felt I had landed in paradise.

There is an irony here: a predominantly oppressive choreographic output from Israeli choreographers living outside the country while choreographers inside it are creating works in which the freshness comes from the very desire to find a way through the darkness to a place of light. Apart from Naharin’s Project Secus, there are Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company’s Wallflower (created for Tel Aviv Art Museum’s sculpture gallery), Vertigo Dance Company’s Reshima, Dafi Dance Group’s In-Dependent and the lovely duet by Iris Erez, I’ll be right back. In other works this sense of light is enhanced by a keen sense of humour. Idan Sharabi presents a duet, Ours, that is choreographed to four of Joni Mitchell’s songs and to a witty stream of consciousness that relishes the absurd. Yossi Berg and Odad Graf’s 4 Men, Alice, Bach and the Deer seems to graft gaga with Monty Python; Hillel Kogan’s ability to carry the text to its illogical conclusion is brilliant (Kogan’s own satirical We Love Arabs was shown at the festival last year). Shani Gravot and Nevo Romano’s wry An Hour with All-Eaters includes fragments of a Bach partita in a simulation of a ‘one-hour visit to an archaeological site’ exploring the intimate landscape of their two naked bodies while Maria Kong overlays a talk-show format on a Buster Keaton soundtrack to produce perhaps the most surreal experience of the festival.

Interestingly, where choreographers choose to express violence and darkness the work is not entirely successful even if the experience of the dancers gives their performance a certain authority. The young woman who lectures the audience on sniper training in Kolben Dance Company’s Charlie Mandelbaum was indeed a sniper instructor during her military service, but the work as a whole wallows in its sense of angst. Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Killer Pig has an odd balance between its dark, menacing poetry and the sensual beauty of the movement; its subject is ambivalent but it is mesmerizing, especially in the nightclub atmosphere of Reading 3 in Tel Aviv Port where the dancers commanded total silence from the packed crowd. One work that approaches violence from a different angle is Noa Dar’s Skin. Dar takes skin as a metaphor for protective boundaries that can be subjected to endless aggression; the analogy is clear but in placing the audience around the performance ring in which the four dancers spar in brutal, unrelenting combat Dar creates a clear division between performance and reality that abstracts the violence without compromising its visceral charge.

A recent work by Ohad Naharin, The Hole, for the Batsheva company is performed in their studio in which an octagonal platform has been built that leaves space for a few rows of chairs around it and a raised corridor behind the audience on which the men begin the dramatic opening of the dance. Much of Israeli dance is built on the circle, and here the audience is also in the round, setting up an intense spatial dynamic with the dancers. The women emerge from under the platform and return at intervals while the men descend and return to the grid above the performance space. Rich in symbolism, spectacular in effect, The Hole is like a vortex that draws in the audience to its mystery.

Three works at the festival were created for museum spaces, though only one, Dana Ruttenberg’s delightful NABA 2 is performed in the setting for which it was designed. Choreographed for four performers dressed as gallery attendants (the real ones are also in attendance) it references with succinctness and wit both the art works on display in adjacent galleries and the imagined relationships they suggest. Wallflower is presented on a stage that resembles two white walls of a museum space, and Jasmeen Godder shows her choreographic research for CLIMAX in her studio in which we are as much participants as observers.

One choreographer stands out for his uncompromising stance: Arkadi Zaides interprets Julia Wolfe’s string quartet Dig Deep, but he chooses not to compete with the musicians or the music. Instead he sits ruminating on the side of the performance space while the quartet plays within its architecture of lamps, metal music stands and chairs. Once the quartet has finished, the members change places with Zaides who then begins his Response to ‘Dig Deep’. If Wolfe’s score is stormy, Zaides is the eye of the storm, his gaze searching in silence for the currents of the music and responding with undulations and circles within his body to what the musicians expressed with the dynamics of their bows on taut strings. It is this kind of visceral approach that imbues two other of Zaides’ works (not seen at the festival) that received a Critics Circle award the following evening: Archive and Capture Practice in which Zaides throws himself into the action of projected films (from the human rights organization B’Tselem) of Jewish soldiers and settlers attacking Palestinian residents in the Occupied Territories. They are works of choreographic outrage and indicate the presence within the cultural community of forces that are actively protesting the government’s hard line.

There are also shorter works, some complete and some in the process of development though it is not always easy to distinguish to which state they belong. Uri Shafir’s Fail Better is a cerebral view of the limitations imposed on the dancing body by ageing, but it reduces the dancing to a level of the absurd (the title comes from a quote by Beckett) that leaves little room for hope. Other works address in differing metaphors the issue of relationships and their consequences: boundaries, separation, independence and dependence. Sharon Vazanna’s Transparent Borders is particularly convincing and both Noa Shadur’s Shifters and Nadar Rosano’s Off-Line are rich choreographic ideas that feature compelling performances (Adi Boutrous in the former and Stav Stuz in the latter). Roy Assaf’s GIRLS (the full version) carries the least complicated program note (‘Five dancers in leotards dancing a dance’) that belies its sensual juxtaposition of innocence and experience.

At the heart of the festival are the dancers, who bring all the choreographic works alive with such remarkable passion and fluency (gaga, the training technique developed by Naharin, is a central influence). Those who stand out are the young man who dances a solo at the very end of Secus as the lights began to fade who has the dynamics of a Francis Bacon painting carved in space; Ofir Yudilevitch who dances in three contrasting works with unaffected eloquence; the intensity of Mor Nardimon in Skin, and the sultry calm of Olivia Court Mesa in Dafi Altabeb’s In-Dependent. If Barrack Marshall’s Wonderland relies as much on an eclectic list of musical tracks as choreographic invention to convey emotions, he has in Inbar Nemirovsky a dancer who turns everything he does into beauty. She is musical, intelligent and has that rich plastic quality of the Batsheva diaspora.

International Exposure has been an opportunity to begin to connect the dots in Israeli dance, from Rudolph Laban and German expressionist influence to Martha Graham to Ohad Naharin and gaga. If you read Hebrew or German, Gaby Aldor has gathered this research in a book that is waiting to be translated into English. Aldor is adviser to Talia Amar, curator of a remarkable exhibition, Out of the Circle: The Art of Dance in Israel, currently in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem that features a wealth of archival material. Not only does it suggest that archival film has an enduring power to inspire but it celebrates the roots on which International Exposure is based.

Unfortunately there are no presenters from the UK at this year’s event, but hopefully the image of Israeli dance in London will not have to wait too long for its next update.


*The Suzanne Dellal centre, named after the daughter of a wealthy family in London who died too young, houses the two Batsheva companies as well as the Inbal Dance Theatre of which Barack Marshall is the new artistic director. The death of Suzanne Dellal has thus become a catalyst for a flourishing dance centre, directed for the past 25 years by a former dancer with Rambert and founder of Dance City, Yair Vardi.