Dancing to their own drum
Most of the works in the 'Curtain Up' festival, which began yesterday, look inward again to the private world of the choreographers.
In regard to the "Curtain Up" dance festival that began yesterday, it is no longer possible to talk about obvious protest - the kind that is like a fist in the belly, but can also be embarrassingly simplistic. The reality in Israel has certainly not changed for the better. Yet, as compared to the plethora of works and narratives that dealt with this narrative directly, perhaps too directly, last year, only two works deal with "the situation" this year: "Gaza," by Tamar Borer and "Herzl Said," by Sahar Azimi, which ends ironically to the voice of Barbra Streisand singing "Hatikva." Most of the choreographers seemingly have returned to "normalcy," to subjects that are more typical of dance and concern the inner worlds of the artists, such as relationships, physicality, femininity and more. Nevertheless, at their best, the oblique and complex works are no less political. This is a different politics.
"Curtain Up," which will be held through November 24 at the Suzanne Dellal Center and the Jerusalem Center for the Performing Arts, is a kind of group exhibition space for young and admired choreographers in the midst of their creativity. As the declared purpose of this framework is to follow the development of the artists and to support them, various choreographers appear here over a number of years. Most prolific of all is Yasmeen Godder, who is appearing here for the fifth year in a row.
This is, therefore, an opportunity to examine what is engaging the young artists in Israel. And what, if anything, bothers them. Another interesting question in this context is what causes the plethora of political messages one year and their disappearance the next? Is this the artists influencing each other, or is it a kind of fashion that is perhaps dictated from above?
Nava Zuckerman, the artistic director of the annual event, does not believe that this is a matter of fashion. She sees in the change in trend at this time a natural reaction to the situation, but a different one. According to her, the despair and the inability to cope have caused the protest to be replaced by looking inward and returning "home" to a more personal statement.
Dancer Ronit Ziv, whose piece "Steam" will be performed tomorrow evening, nevertheless believes that the personal is not less political. Ziv, who last year gave the spectator a dose of sharp and harsh irony in "Mud," says, "This time the choice is to shut myself into the private space of the body." In her previous work, she presented the character of the little, ostensibly obedient woman, who appears to be about to explode. In her kitchen she cuts vegetables for a salad with sharp and violent motions and a tense smile on her face, talking about Shimon Peres as she chops. In her new work, in which Ziv has chosen not to appear as a dancer, she abandons the theatrical medium of speech and the quasi-narrative framework. But this does not mean that she is silent. Perhaps only less sarcastic.
Realm of fantasy
Ziv is not the only one who has chosen a more abstract and less realistic medium. A world of images that is lovely and not entirely deciphered is presented, for example, by Anna Waisman, an outstanding dancer formerly with the Batsheva Dance Company, for whom this is her first appearance as an independent artist. Waisman's androgynous image, of which her shaven head is the trademark, blends well with the costumes and the set, which create a hallucinated and depressing world from the realm of science fiction. A dancer and juggler, whose sexuality is also not clear, adds vitality and red color to the depressive atmosphere as he constantly throws red balls in to the air and catches them.
In this magical work it seems that Waisman touches on the realms of fantasy, which is dance's home ground. Ziv, however, is more concrete. She has an agenda. She is continuing her study of female identity. Her women are angry in a throttled way and are passive-aggressive types. Sometimes they are wallowing in well-concealed self-hatred.
As someone whose education combined both theater (she studied at both at the Beit Zvi school of drama and at the dance department at the Seminar Hakibbutzim Teachers College), Ziv believes in casting. The characters of her dancers are delicate with a twist, as she says. There is something distorted and disturbing in the postures and the movements that does not conform to the usual image of femininity. The women are always on the brink. The man is one-dimensional, with an impenetrable expression.
Instead of the kitchen, this time she chooses to place the dancers in a bathroom with towels, near a sink, smearing cream on their bodies and drying each other, but they are not soothed. Instead of intimacy they radiate a distress that is also caused by the crowded space that shuts them in.
This distress is a reflection of the feeling of the reality today, says Ziv. But it is clear that in her work, the distress drains into the women and becomes a kind of emotional impotence and alienation. Barren femininity. "They are functioning, but they are unable to love; they touch but they do not transmit feelings through touch. They talk but they do not say that they love. They cannot encompass, give birth," says Ziv. The distancing from softness, the alienation, she says, is a reaction to the world outside, which is masculine. In order to function and succeed in it, women sacrifice their feelings.
Ziv, 33, certainly speaks from the depths of her heart. She is considered an outstanding artist and produces her works successfully abroad. But in the reality in which budgets are dwindling and she is responsible for a team of five people, it is necessary to survive. In such a reality, says Ziv, there is no leisure to think, for example, about family life.
Yasmeen Godder, a very talented artist who is also successful abroad, goes even further than Ziv in dealing with femininity.
"Two Play Pink" is an entire evening by Godder and Iris Erez, comprising three pieces, three comments on the same theme. Here Godder abandons the use of fascinating props that had characterized her and also the stories she wove in her previous works. The theatricality and narrative aspects of "Hall," or the defined space that creates a frame as in "Like Birds" - her two most recent works - are absent here. Here there is only the body and movement. And this is rich and sufficient.
Godder and Erez are ascetic, beautiful-ugly in the style of heroic chic, seductive and repulsive. They play around with the image of femininity. One moment they are little girls playing with the ends of their pony tails and putting their fingers in their mouth in embarrassment, and the next moment they are seductive women using the same gestures. Strong characters - or manipulated like marionettes. In the last part they dance with large sculpted breasts tied to their chests, which distorts the significance of the female chest and makes it ridiculous.
Godder's language of movement - which was already seen in "Like Birds," where the four dancers danced very close together as if each wanted to be swallowed up into the others' body - continues in the new piece. The self-hatred, the repressed violence and the hurt accompany the complex relationships between the two women. When one wants to get closer, the second repels her, over and over. They clasp each other in reconciliation out of closeness only when they have exhausted themselves to death, but then it is as though they are cripples. There is no joy in Godder's performance, only distress. And when the women finally smile, it is a chilling, frozen and scornful smile.
Godder refrains from explaining the work and giving it a concrete interpretation because, she says, she has consciously refrained from following a structured narrative. However, she does say that this work emerged from thinking about the female political dimension - a kind of reflection of the reality in the female context."
A decade older than Ziv, Godder or Waisman, Sonia D'Orleans Juste does not deal with the struggle to survive in the career sense, but with her childhood, memories and the personal identity of someone who was born to an interracial marriage. She has been living in Israel for 15 years. For 10 years she danced with Batsheva and afterward took part in various productions independently. To this day she teaches dance at various places.
At a time when Israeli dancers are trying to free themselves from the bonds of the story, she tells it in simple sentences, although not all of it. She grew up in Toronto with a black father who was born in Tahiti, a musician in a big band, and a white Christian mother, an opera singer. Apart from one crude incident that she recalls, she did not suffer from manifestations of racism, but the question of her identity, she says, is still unresolved.
When she was seven, she came down with asthma and was sent to live in Tahiti. She lived with her grandmother there for five years in an environment in which people believe in voodoo and witchcraft. In the performance she returns to the wound of that abandonment in her childhood. A huge mobile on which colored cloths are hung symbolizes the memories. D'Orleans Juste, an impressive Amazon, wears a long dress that is stuck to the floor. During the performance she tries to get free of it. "It takes time to get free of one's childhood," she notes, "but it is impossible to grow without getting free."