Israeli Dancers in the Dark

Unlike other artists who want to create lab-like conditions, and use a white space with a floor, walls and harsh lighting, Roy Assaf's space is black, which may reflect his mood.

Ruth Eshel
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Ruth Eshel

Roy Assaf's reputation dates back to 1995 when he created, "We Came for the Wings, Stayed Because We Couldn't Fly" for the Shades of Dance (Gvanim Bemachol ) festival and the ensuing, fine duet with Emanuel Gat, "Winter Voyage." He joined Gat who moved to France and danced in a troupe there for several years before returning to Israel. At the 2011 Curtain Up Festival, he presented "Six Years Later," one of the best works featured there, and this year, for the same stage he created, "The Hill."

At Saturday's performance in Tel Aviv where these two works were featured, one got the impression that Assaf is a talented, mature choreographer who listens to his inner voice.

As the lights on the stage go on, carefully stretched black screens appear, wrapping the stage and creating a clean space of pure dance. But unlike other artists who want to create lab-like conditions, and use a white space with a floor, walls and harsh lighting, Assaf's space is black, and perhaps this reflects his mood.

A pair of dancers enter the stage. They listen to each other in their movements. They advance along the stage inside a bubble of space they share lovingly. Their movement is expressive and concise. The placing of a hand. Listening. Placing a head on a shoulder. Waiting. There is time to listen to the resonance in the space, hear what the movement is trying to say. They seem to be trying to grasp the moment or the memory of something that may no longer exist.

It is rare today, in the frantic dances, to see and be moved by the simplicity and frankness found in this duet. Then the sounds of the "Moonlight Sonata" are heard. It is surprising to see how naturally contemporary dance connects to it. After the duo defined the space between them, a dialogue of distancing begins, to enable each of them to breathe separately and be able to say his piece. There is something irritating in the air, as if they sense that a disaster is impending.

Throughout the dance, they move incessantly between bits of life that are revealed in a moment to us, and what seems like a memory of those same bits of life. Borders are crossed in waves, where there is an everyday scene in the life of a couple, in an apartment, on the street, in a store, the body language is relaxed, while later on there is a change in the dynamics and power, and without the movements and its components changing, they turn into a dance.

It is all, of course, very refined. For this, you need fine dancers and such are Roy Assaf and Hadar Younger Harel. Yet despite all the very, good words said, the dance lasts too long. It seems that the choreographer had trouble separating from the duet, and each time found another movement statement, and perhaps another fragment of memory.

Ammunition Hill in dance

The dance, "The Hill," based on the Hebrew song "Givat Hatahmoshet" - about Jerusalem's Ammunition Hill, the site of bitter battles in the Six Day War - is meant for three male dancers. It opens with a duet by Assaf and Forman to military band music. Their palms touch, the movement flows and out of the combination of limited movements the solutions emerge.

It may be interpreted as brothers in arms, or as enjoying being together, but in terms of the choreography it also calls to mind Emanuel Gat's "Rite of Spring." There, as here, most of the dance is done in pairs, but the difference is in the accompanying music. In Gat's work, the music is by Stravinsky and the dance is like a salsa dance, but here the songs are linked to the military, marches and bereavement. So, despite the choreographic similarity, the associations are different. Yet perhaps both dances symbolize some kind of ritual and sacrifice.

Throughout the dance there is a touch of humor, when the dancers stand with their backs to the audience and move forward as they pinch their buttocks with much enjoyment to the beat of the march. The atmosphere shifts when the third dancer, Shlomi Biton comes on stage and falls into their arms. Now the joined hands create a hammock or stretcher of sorts that the dancers fall into one after another. Amid all of this, occasionally, the three stand side by side, as if dancing a debka, or forming a circle to do the hora. So the bereavement, joy, and criticism are all mixed together.

Rarely is there an opportunity to see an all-male dance. These are excellent dancers with fine technical abilities and their technique can be described as "soft virtuosity." They glide along the stage, fall into each others' arms, lift each other, continue gliding, as if they could go on and on.

The quality of their movement is not that of the archetypal hero nor of the super-dancer. There is no tension in their movement, nearly everything seems to be taking place in a game, in a relaxed manner. Because their muscles are not stretched to the limit, the dancers convey a sense of humanity that only intensifies the pain and bereavement. Assaf appears as a very deep, sensitive and intriguing choreographer.

An evening of the works of Roy Assaf. "Six Years Later." Dancer choreographers: Roy Assaf and Hadar Younger Harel; soundtrack and costumes: Roy Assaf; original music: Reut Yehudai; music: Beethoven, "Moonlight Sonata," and others.

"The Hill." Choreographer dancers: Roy Assaf, Yigal Forman, Shlomi Biton; original music and arranging: Shlomi Biton; lighting design: Dani Fishof. Suzanne Dellal Center, 29.12

From Roy Assaf’s “The Hill,” a rare all-male dance. Credit: Gadi Dagan

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