A Dance of Ice and Fire: Israeli Dancer Bewitches in New Performance

In her new work, 'Lie Like a Lion,' dancer and choreographer Yasmeen Godder shifts between past and present, igniting memories.

Yoav Brill

“Lie Like a Lion,” a piece for one dancer and two musicians, plays out on two different tracks. In one, Yasmeen Godder confronts the past – in the form of objects and costumes she used in earlier works – and examines them anew, open to discovering new narratives and being attuned to where these objects now echo in her body. The second track is an encounter in the present time, with the live music. A sound can ignite a memory, as if to point to an opening to the past. At the same time, the music is independent, and uninviting – not allowing the dancer to return to familiar places. The music conducts a dialogue that simultaneously helps the dancer and undermines her.

Despite all this, in the eye of the beholder it is the same Godder. She remains a witch who still enjoys casting a spell on herself. As soon as she enters this state of consciousness, her body fills to bursting with energy and can hardly contain its vitality. It writhes into asymmetrical, slightly distorted forms. Rigid feet turned inward, or fingers splayed out like needles protruding from the body. When she sails across the stage in mad exuberance, it puts one in mind of a wild horse, and when her movements turn more quiet and inward, one can discern a sly smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye at the thought of what she is about to unleash next. She dances a manipulative duet with pianist Matan Daskal as she indulges in a cigarette. But the smoke that rises from her mouth really comes from the witch’s inner fire. It wouldn’t have surprised me if this smoke was colored red or toxic green.

The section in which she attempts to forgo strength and expose weakness is most intriguing. She lightly prowls about for a good while, hands tightening and releasing like gills taking in and releasing air. Her hands lift up, as if reaching a new stage of emptying out, and she opens the valve of the mouth to accelerate the process. The sounds that emanate from within her perhaps signal that the end is near. And then just at the last moment when the line is about to be crossed, the body fills with fresh and forceful energy, and returns to earlier movement motifs.

When is she soft? Only in those moments when she wears a marvelous lion’s mask – the gaping mouth, sharp teeth and knowing look in the eyes. Donning the mask of the king of the forest, she allows her torso to soften; she lets go of her inner defenses. Gingerly she advances on all fours toward the musicians, nuzzling against their legs, seeking human touch, lying on her back with her limbs held straight up.

Another element in this work, as in all her previous work, is gender. She puts on layers of clothes from earlier dances. First, it’s a corset of matchboxes (from the 1999 work “Aleena’s Wall”); to this is attached a rubber brassiere (from “Two Playful Pink” in 2003), and atop all of that comes a whole collection of items from “See Her Change” (2013). Adorned in all these colorful layers, she looks like a postmodern fertility goddess. Enjoying every second of the grotesque, scratching her bottom with her bare leg, submitting to the male gaze. Then she peels off all the layers and strikes a femme fatale pose on a bed of furs, as if just waiting for a passerby to fall into her sweet trap.

As in all her earlier works, here too she plays with death, this time in the form of a large knife, the ritual carving knife. A knife with which to commit hara-kiri, or to stab at the neck and eyes. On the television screen at the front of the stage, on which a movie of past rehearsals is seen, Daskal is seen clutching a knife. He gently passes it over the body, sketching a map, as if searching for just the right point to do what must be done. And as in Godder’s earlier works, the killing is done in a most unexpected place, with Daskal grabbing the knife next to the television and stabbing the lion. Godder crawls out. The ceremony has come to an end.

As the narrative loops play out, Godder is consistently a tremendous performer.