Can You Dance a Yehuda Amichai Poem?

'Blackout,' choreographed by Rami Be'er and based on a poem by Amichai, is a daring choreographic work.

Ruth Eshel
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The Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in 'Blackout.'
The Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in 'Blackout.'Credit: Uri Nevo
Ruth Eshel

“Blackout” belongs to the series devoted to the Israeli reality, choreographed by Rami Be’er for the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. It takes its inspiration from Yehuda Amichai’s poem “Lullaby,” which strikes a merciless note from the first stanza: “Give the child a lullaby, sing to him so he’ll sleep: / Father has gone to work, father has gone to war / But sleep. / The wolf is howling, the enemy is at the gate, but sleep / The house is falling, the world is on fire / But sleep, but sleep.” The incongruity between the child’s innocent sleep and the dangerous zone is at the heart of the work.

Black dominates the stage, the walls, the short, loose garb of the dancers in a variety of cuts. The blackness contrasts with the surfaces of sensitive skin of the dancers’ bare legs and arms. A sleeping group of dancers dangle from a wall studded with protuberances, such as mountain climbers train on. Others join them from the other side of the wall, sliding down in dreamlike languor. At the same time, on the other side of the stage, a duet of battling men takes place.

More than in Be’er’s previous works, the movements are complex and lengthy. Be’er remains inside the language but continues to dig, to thicken, to make it more intricate and to heighten the technical hurdles. Perhaps this is his way to express in movement alone the idea of the tangled situation in the poem. Contrary to his earlier works, the phrases are more complex, changing, fast, and there is no repetition of the same movement motif. The weave of the composition is richer.

The dancers are fine as a group but at their best in the solos and duets, which reveal their technical and artistic abilities. Here, too, Be’er is more daring choreographically, setting free some inner madness; but at the same time one is impressed by the movement choices and by the control this veteran choreographer exercises over the material.

Warrior motifs pervade the dancing of the males, embellished by salutes and by cries of encouragement or wails of distress. Opposite is the sleeping/awake group. Amid this, a creature, part animal and part human, climbs the wall and paints. These are not colorful children’s paintings, but are done in white chalk, enigmatic, somewhat disturbed, perhaps the dancers’ dreams of horror.

The work goes on to refer to another stanza from the Amichai poem: “Don’t tell him about heavenly angels / Don’t tell him about a butterfly / Or about golden birds.” A pair of angels with beautiful white wings comes onstage, offering moments of humor. As she advances bent, rather frozen, gazing downward, he is behind her, torso swollen, the energy of masculine vitality coursing through his bare body. Afterward, they dance a duet that is charming in its simplicity and freshness.

Now a procession of dancers in exotic and spectacular costumes of “golden birds” enters – and disappears. Another return to the melancholy reality, a repetition of motifs we’ve seen before, and the dance becomes a bit long. The work ends with the words that conclude the poem: “Take the child from the lullaby / And the song will continue by itself in the world / And finally will catch up with him / And put him to sleep for always.” With these words, spoken by the actor Eli Gornstein (in a recording), the dancers climb the wall, slide down its other side and fall asleep for always, as in a mercy killing.

It’s a harsh theme, and it is founded on sheer movement, on Be’er’s seasoned skill. The result is estimable.

The next performances of “Blackout” will be on April 14 at the Ashdod Performing Arts Center, on April 19 at the Cultural Center in Rehovot, and on June 23-24 at the Suzanne Dellal Center, Tel Aviv.

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