Dancing Like a Duck Takes to Water

Yoni Soutchy's work 'Duck,' showcasing the fluid movements of Oryan Yohanan and Michal Gil, is more than a testament to the complicated relationship between man and beast. It is a deeply interpretative work of art.

Ruth Eshel
Ruth Eshel

I always like seeing the multidisciplinary performances staged in the intimate space of the Clipa Theater, a complex that radiates with a theatrical, almost fairy-tale aura of mystery. Once you travel past the massive trees at the entrance, their exposed roots like spilled secrets, past the costumes on display in the lobby and the burgeoning, bush-like light fixture of dry branches and silhouetted birds to reach the pint-sized performance room, it's like entering a portal into a clandestine world.

"Duck" was performed as part of the second program of Spotlight on New Israeli Work, and is outstanding in its maturity and the interest it arouses. It apparently originated from personal meditations of choreographer Yoni Soutchy about the meaning of life, about a person who, as he writes in the program, "wants to sit at home, neither to succeed nor to lose, simply to exist." Such a person, according to Soutchy, is doomed to be abused in the end, to be "eaten."

Soutchy takes this idea and he doesn't just run with it. He dances with it. The result is surprising in its beauty and profundity.

The duck, Soutchy writes, is dull. It is glamour-free. So it was a bold choice to cast Oryan Yohanan – perhaps the most spectacular dancer on Israeli stages today – to play the title role. Her costume is dull, like the character, but her body, which was born to dance, is anything but.

Dancer Michal Gil, as short as a child and concealed in an outfit that hides her entire form, feeds the dancer. On the front of her costume is a skeleton or the Angel of Death, blazoned across her chest where commercial brands usually slap their names. She wears a masklike hat on her head and her feet are shoved into short, shiny green boots, more akin to splashing in puddles that delivering messages of mortality.

Most of Yohanan's dance takes place with the entire length of her body pressed to the floor, her energy, like water, washing over her from inside. But our dancer is not a swan. Here, there is no aristocratic gliding. When Yohanan advances on her knees, it's with a limp, her weight transferred from one leg to the other while displaying the soles of her feet with spread-out, duck-like big toes.

This is technically tricky, but Yohanan doesn't falter. She moves further upward, contorting herself all the way.

During this entire duck solo the language of movement remains compelling: Although it is complex and strange, in Yohanan's performance it appears lucid and clean.

Later, with immense effort, she manages to drag herself up and to climb onto a small podium, remove her hands from the floor, straighten her back, and with a despairing movement to wave with her hands as though asking to realize the dream of flight.

But the moment is fleeting, and soon Yohanan returns to stagnating below.

Beauty and the beast

If the first performance presents the characters, the next one is a tale of cruelty. The little girl in the green boots puts her elbow into the duck's mouth as she force feeds it, and then chokes the creature, plucking out the feathers. Yohanan's costume is mutilated and torn, revealing red feathers dipped in blood – a striking image of ugliness. The feathers are scattered over the stage like spilled intestines and paint anyone in their path in shiny red.

But it doesn't end here. Soutchy has more surprises in wait. Like a film cut, after the performance in disguise ends, Yohanan peels off her red-feathered "skin" and returns to her original self.

She sits on the podium, sips a drink, smokes a cigarette. Then she goes to the fitness club in order to shape her body and preserve its beauty, and there she meets her friend, the dancer Gil, and together they perform a routine performance of training and dance combinations.

And as in a nightmare, Gil takes a rifle and fires at her friend, who falls to the floor in the exact same place where earlier the duck was murdered. And again, a film cut. Yohanan rises and sits once again on the podium like a femme fatale resting after an arousing game. Behind her, ever so close, stands little Gil, draped in the fur coat of the murdered animal and scattering flakes of silver on her beloved. Perhaps this is a sign of thanks for playing the game.

This is a multi-layered, highly interpretive piece. We have touches of movement in a relationship of exploitation, attraction and abuse. It goes between man and his fellow man, and it wraps itself into the tug between man and animal. The relationship here is ever-mingled with death, and it's a work with depth and interest, and above all, of utmost quality.

"Duck," by Yoni Soutchy, part of the at the Clipa Aduma Festival. Creative dancers: Oryan Yohanan and Michal Gil. Costume design: Yoni Soutchy. Musical arrangement: Shai Zornizter. Clipa Theater, February 23

Yoni Soutchy's 'Duck.'Credit: Gadi Dagon
Yoni Soutchy's 'Duck.'Credit: Gadi Dagon

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