Israeli Choreographer Fuses Opera and Dance, Creating Moments of Human Grace

Itzik Galili's new work, with the theme of power and the pursuit of momentary glory, does not allow the audience to sit back comfortably.

Ruth Eshel
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A scene from 'Man of the Hour,' Itzik Galili's new work.
A scene from 'Man of the Hour,' Itzik Galili's new work.Credit: Gadi Dagon
Ruth Eshel

The premiere of the new work by the Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili, who has made a name for himself in the international world of dance and has returned to Israel after many years of living abroad, generated great curiosity. We’ve seen excellent works by him executed by the Israel Ballet and the Kamea Dance Company, but this was a world premiere. Also intriguing was the fusion of eight male dancers with two sopranos from the Israeli Opera, and all of it performed on the opera company’s big stage in Tel Aviv.

The theme shows that Galili does not intend to let the audience sit back comfortably in their seats. In this work, “Man of the Hour,” he sets out to examine the manipulations of power and people’s pursuit of momentary glory, a subject that has long intrigued him. In stark contrast is the exquisite singing of passages from operas by Purcell, Nicola Porpora, Michael Gordon and Handel, performed by two marvelous sopranos, Anat Czarny and Efrat Ashkenazi (pictured above).

The all-male group of dancers neutralizes the possibility of paired relationships; the focus is squarely on the subject of group power – not violence within the group, but the power radiated by the dancers and what looms as a potential for calamity. At the start, the men band together and surprise us by shouting gibberish that spews out inner malaise even as they are attired in elegant suits. The scene, perhaps a caricature of corrupt politicians, conjures up political protest paintings in Europe on the eve of the Second World War.

This is followed by dancing fraught with movement: Hands and feet are flung every which way, bodies are slammed to the floor, there’s a melee of jumping and running. In short, a sequence of technical hurdles and quick, strong external movements. There is not a moment of respite: the choreography almost seems to be testing the limits of the men’s endurance. It’s all anchored within compositions that reflect high professionalism, geometrical structures that morph into disorder like a swarm of bees about to regroup. The unison of the dance creates a feeling of power without an emotional bond between the dancers. Each dancer is a particle in a social machine. The duets, too, seethe with restless disquiet. One can appreciate the effort, the tremendous intensity of the choreography and the execution, yet despite it all, a sense of alienation prevails. As though one is observing something from afar.

Restart order

There is an anomalous segment in which one of the singers, bathed in the light of a lamp, is surrounded by dancers, torsos bared, muscles glistening with perspiration. It’s almost a commercial for the masculine body, or possibly a reference to a commercial. Here the movement flows more softly, but the alienation remains, though the action matches the music, as though obeying a direction to slow down. It’s a lovely scene, but preserves a sense of distance. And again waves of power wash across the stage and one wonders how long it will be before the dancers collapse, and also: What is all this leading to?

A scene from 'Man of the Hour,' Itzik Galili's new work. Credit: Yossi Zwecker

Then, abruptly, after two-thirds of the show is over: cut. Quiet. Silence. As though a restart order has been received from above. Two dancers enter the stage, stop opposite one another and examine each other with tenderness, gaze into each other’s eyes, touch the other’s cheeks lightly. The sounds of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata are heard, as though emerging through a heavy black cloud. At this moment it is clear that everything that went before had just one aim: to lend meaning to this duet of human grace. As though to say that there is no need for force, technical complexity or a compositional structure that hurtles through space in order to thrill and move an audience. You need to relax, listen, breathe. A simple dance is sufficient. And it all ends with the dancers scattering, each in a different posture, with a distant look of hope. The superb singers move forward and blend into the final image: conciliation after the storm. This work is one of those whose depth is grasped after it has ended, after it’s allowed to sink in and organize itself internally and be understood in retrospect.

The lighting, by Yaron Abulafia, was splendid, and if there were a few moments of excessive darkness it was probably due to this being a premiere. The costumes consisted of jackets that at one point were connected to the waist by means of a belt, creating a skirt-like effect, a bit clumsily. The positioning of the singers was intelligently done; they accompany the events like a soundtrack and infuse them with moments of operatic transcendence.

The next performances of “Man of the Hour” will be held at Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv on Jan. 26 and March 2-3, all at 9 P.M.

A scene from 'Man of the Hour,' Itzik Galili's new work.Credit: Gadi Dagon