Solo Artist Dances His Way Out Religious Past

In his first major solo show, Dror Liberman displays honesty and talent as he depicts parts of his life story growing up in a large religious family.

Gadi Dagon

Dror Liberman’s one-man show “Not Soft and Not Light” is a delightful surprise. After all, it’s not every day that one gets to see a fresh young talent making a genuine personal statement. Two years ago I saw Liberman’s brief debut work, which was part of a dance program for traditionally observant men (and part of Ronen Itzhaki’s Between Heaven and Earth Festival). He’s come a long way since. He’s gained confidence and translated parts of his life story into a show in which there isn’t a single dull moment.

Liberman, 27, was born in Jerusalem. He has 10 siblings and grew up in a religious household. He decided to serve in the army but afterward, rather than study medicine as his parents wanted, he made a very different choice – to become a dancer.

He begins the show with what looks like a martial arts training session, combining gentleness and strength. It’s a display of his abilities, and perhaps also a statement that an internal war has waged within him his entire life. Outwardly, one is impressed by his flexibility and impressive acrobatic ability – as witnessed by front and back flips, and more. But what really catches the eye is the quickness and lightness of his leaps and quiet landings, which recall a panther.

Then he recites the names of many of his family members throughout the generations, in biblical style, with each name accompanied by a representative movement. When he reaches his own name, he starts to pound his chest. He says his name and beats his chest, again and again, like in the Yom Kippur prayer. He explains that each of his 10 siblings are married with children, while only he remains unmarried and is no longer religious. They are like a herd, he says, getting down on his knees and moving through the space while making mooing sounds in a pitying and derisive tone, which gradually turns to outbursts of anger.

Gadi Dagon

Obsession with pain

His movements evoke associations from the past. For instance, he pours a bottle of water over his sweaty body, takes off his shirt and starts to wipe the floor and scrub the shirt. This recalls his childhood, when he had to wash his brothers and sisters’ clothes – until, when it was time for his Bar Mitzvah, he asked for a washing machine as a present.

Liberman is obsessed with pain and the body. In one segment, he runs on a collision course toward a wall and tries to climb it. Again and again he tries, hurting his unprotected body that is thrust against the wall, as if the outward pain can make the inner pain go away. He does not let up; he is absolutely tenacious. Finally, he manages to leap high enough to grasp a ring with two hands. As soon as he does, he releases one hand – as if checking his abilities – and then loses interest altogether and falls.

Sometimes he stands still and sings traditional songs that were part of his childhood. The viewer is impressed by his stage presence, the naturalness and candidness of his presentation, the clarity of his diction and his singing ability. Although he is now in the secular world, each word immediately relates to the way of thinking and speaking from before. When he exclaims how wonderful dance is, the phrases that burst out are often biblical ones.

In the final segment, also inspired by Jewish tradition, he counts the meaningful things in his life – in the style of the “Echad Mi Yodea?” (“Who Knows One?”) song of the Passover Seder, but in reverse order. The segment is interspersed with lots of back flips, which have the audience worrying that the exhausted dancer might hurt himself. When he gets to “Who knows two?”, he says “Two parents.” But when he gets to one, he has trouble saying “One is our God.”

This is not a work that was created casually with an eye for what’s in vogue. It’s a work brimming with the honesty and talent of a new artist. Liberman has jumped through numerous physical hurdles to reach this stage, and although he still lacks that high-level artistic polish, that can be improved.

“Not Soft and Not Light,” choreographed and performed by Dror Liberman. Concept development partner: Netta Wieser. Lighting and Sound: Yoni Tal. Next performances at the Clipa Theater for Performance Art, Tel Aviv, on October 10 and October 31.