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 Post subject: Joyce Unleashed 2015
PostPosted: Wed Mar 18, 2015 7:31 pm 
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Location: New Jersey
Joyce UNLEASHED (program 1)
New York Live Arts
New York, New York

March 17, 2015
Netta Yerushalmy: “Helga And The Three Sailors”;
Hillel Kogan: “We Love Arabs”

-- by Jerry Hochman

“Joyce UNLEASHED” is the umbrella for a series of programs presented under the auspices of the Joyce Theater that enables audiences to view emerging, ‘cutting-edge’ artists in spaces even more intimate than the Joyce Theater itself. Whether the ‘artists’ that comprised the first of two Joyce Unleashed programs this spring at New York Live Arts are emerging or on the cutting edge is somewhat debatable – but it was an interesting and entertaining evening. More specifically, the first dance was curiously interesting; the second was thoroughly entertaining.

The program’s closing piece, “We Love Arabs,” is one of those works of art that appears at first to be artistically self-effacing and relatively insignificant in the overall artistic scheme of things, and ends up being both a brilliant piece of theater and a guilty pleasure.

“Helga and the Three Sailors,” the dance that opened last night’s program, is somewhat of a puzzlement. Choreographed by Netta Yerushalmy in 2014, this is clearly a work of intelligence and creativity, filled with interestingly expressed, albeit somewhat isolated, ideas. It’s not restricted to one type of movement quality – it’s often painfully slow, like watching moving statuary, but there are moments of rapid-fire body motion. At times the movement looks quirky, at times Tharp-like, at times angular, at times slinky, at times balletic. And although a reflexive reaction to the piece’s style would limit it to being an example of post-modern movement for movement’s sake, I saw it as having a theme of sorts relating to the necessity, and (with apologies to Dali) persistence, of memory.

As the piece begins, the stage suddenly brightens to glaring light, and four dancers race to their places. Amanda Kmett’Pendry, Sarah Lifson, and Marc Crouillat, costumed in solid-color ‘jump suits’ of red, blue, and brown, assume face-down prone positions downstage left, and Yerushalmy, in a slightly different-looking costume that appears to be two shades of yellow, upstage and stage left of center.

Immediately, a series of filmed images is projected onto a scrim at the back of the stage. These ‘home movie’ snippets are comprised of seconds-long sequences that show an unidentified young girl, presumably Yerushalmy, dancing expressively as children do - neither randomly nor limited by space or subject matter, but seemingly responding to some inner voice. These brief movement patterns are replayed repeatedly without interruption, as if a musical chord were being isolated and played back to deconstruct it, to remember it more accurately, or to isolate it as a memory pattern to sample at some future time. As the child in the film is moving, Yerushalmy replicates the child’s movement pattern while moving diagonally downstage toward the audience. Each time the film sequence is repeated, Yerushalmy returns to her initial upstage position and reproduces the childhood movement. More movement sequences follow – displaying different brief movement expressions by the same child, which Yerushalmy replicates. In one movement sequence, she first turns her head toward the screen as if forcing herself to look at the image of herself to cement the movement correctly in her mind. Throughout Yerushalmy’s replication exercises, the three other dancers remain semi-dormant.

These sequences are an introduction to the more lengthy portion of the dance that applies Yerushalmy’s movement ideas and memories via the three other dancers – the ‘three sailors’ -- who I saw as extensions of her thought processes.

Eventually, the filmed sequences end (though some are repeated briefly later), and the focus changes to movement forms that mimic the isolated, but repeated, sounds of the score, whether these are non-descript sounds, or sounds that resemble the squawks and wails of wild birds. As this process continues, and although there are brief periods when there is no sound, the three dancers move either individually or jointly as if not only replicating the sounds in Judith Berkson’s score, but transferring the sound to some visual color balance. Through most of this time Yerushalmy is squatting, or spread across some offstage object, as if she was in deep thought and transferring the thoughts telepathically to the other dancers – although at one point Yerushalmy moves behind the scrim on which the videos of her as a child had been projected, with her ‘real time’ movement now appearing as shadow memories of her childhood. The piece ends with Yerushalmy, standing, her back to the audience, arms bent upward, as if trying to penetrate the scrim on which the filmed child images were screened, while the dancers approach the scrim (and Yerushalmy), moving concurrently with the call of the wild birds and of the choreographer’s memory and ideas.

Yerushalmy’s dance was greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm by the audience, although that may have been an indication that she was preaching to the choir. To me the piece displayed movement qualities that emerged from a foundation of experiences, presented in the form of semi-isolated ideas that use as their reference points remembrances of movement past as well as the nature of sound components and of color balance. This somewhat complex and awkward description reflects my difficulty appreciating the dance on a more than intellectual level.

Hillel Kogan is a stand-up dancer. By that I mean he’s a dancer who presents a subject as a stand-up comedian might, but through gestures and movement as well as words, and through verbal, mental, and even physical interaction with his audience. The subject of his seriously comic piece is world peace – or at least peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs in the same land. And like all great comedy, it seems improvised and haphazard, but it’s the rigidly unrigid structure of this hilarious, heartbreaking, and heartwarming piece, as well as its libretto, that makes “We Love Arabs” as extraordinary as it is.

The piece has relatively constant movement, but this comes across as much a product of staging as of choreography in the sense of extended movement combinations. There are brief interludes of contemporary movement – those with his Arab partner in comedy, Adi Boutrous, or solo combinations for each, but here the ‘dance’ is primarily a dance of mental rather than physical interaction.

The performance begins without the audience knowing that it has begun. Kogan walks onto the bare stage, and one notices almost immediately that he’s wearing a head microphone – not exactly a standard dance performance accessory. Kogan then speaks to the audience as if he’s introducing the piece he’s going to present, explaining, and demonstrating, his motivations in dance terms. That is, how his body moves to inhabit its surrounding space. He moves like a limbed amoeba – narrating as he moves. It’s funny – but soon becomes comically serious as he talks about space that he finds does not welcome his body; that pushes back. At that point, of course, one realizes that Kogan is not just talking about space in metaphysical terms, but land/air space, space jointly occupied by Jews and Arabs – Israel. And one understands that Kogan’s comic monologue is not an introduction to his dance, but a part of it.

Shortly thereafter, Boutrous wanders onto the stage. As the piece progresses, he’s given little to say (as opposed to Kogan’s continuing chatter), but his delivery is deadpan, and they’re little zingers. For example, at one point Kogan decides for the purposes of the dance that he needs to identify the two of them. So he has Boutrous draw a Star of David on Kogan’s shirt – with all the implications of an appended Star of David understood but unstated. Kogan then paints an identifying mark on Boutrous’s foreheard. Boutrous asks what the mark is. Kogan says it’s the crescent that is affixed at the top of mosques. Boutrous then calmly states that he’s Christian. And in the course of the dance monologue, Kogan discloses that his family came from Russia. He asks where Boutrous was born. Boutrous, emotionless, says Tel Aviv. So it goes.

Although the interrelationship between Jews and Arabs in Israel is its nominal subject, “We Love Arabs” isn’t restricted to that. In his ‘deconstruction’ of the movement he is, or is about to show, Kogan also takes aim at orthodoxy in many forms – including hilarious indirect digs at ‘orthodox’ post-modern dance methodology and formality, and his own ‘position’ as director/narrator/apologist. The knowledgeable audience got it all. But the comedy never overwhelmed the subject matter; rather, as simply stated and delivered as it was, it was the serving spoon full of sugar that the made the message go down easily. No credit is provided for the narrative libretto (the choreography is attributed to Kogan), but Inbal Yaacobi and Rotem Tashach are identified as “Artistic Advisors.” The accompanying music was by Kazem Alsaher, and Mozart.

As the piece continues, Kogan discusses the ‘national’ food that Israelis are known for – hummus. And then acknowledge that this Israeli food, which he calls its ‘life force’, is an Arab creation. He then spreads this ‘life force’ on their faces; feeds it to each other (with pieces of pita), and dances across the stage passing a bowl of this ‘life force’ back and forth as they meander, in different places over the same stage/land space, separate but still connected to each other. And the piece concludes with the two of them approaching the audience, Boutrous, to Kogan’s right, holding the bowl of hummus and Kogan holding the pita. Kogan breaks off a piece of pita, dips this ‘life force’ into the hummus bowl, and feeds the piece sequentially to members of the audience – of course, mimicking the Eucharist. Nothing is sacred; but everything is sacred. And the hummus life force is universal.

And after the audience exited, waiting for them in the lobby were complimentary glasses of wine, pita pieces, and hummus.

“We Love Arabs” premiered in Tel Aviv in 2013. It is wonderful dance comedy theater, but it’s much more than that. For one, it introduces a comedy team in the manner of a dancing Tom and Dick Smothers. More importantly, and whatever one thinks of the conflicts between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, or between one ethnic/tribal/religious group and another, it merits world-wide exposure. Maybe even a performance event before the United Nations. Or a Joint Session of Congress.


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