„To the rescue of Gaia” (Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, Ekodoom)
By Regina Lissowska
One of the key events of this year’s Festival is Ekodoom presented by Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. Run by Rami Be’er, the group constitutes one of the pillars of dancing in Israel. At present, the goup comprises several dancers, making up an original group. Sharing a common lifestyle and working together in a kibbutz in Gaton, completely isolated from the external world, has not only been an interesting social experiment. It has also allowed the group to perfect their dancing. Their technical skills seem to transcend human capacities, while their bodies communicate through every muscle. The fundamental idea for the group has been expressing the profoundest problems of the present time through the prism of Israeli culture.
Placing emphasis on aesthetics, the poetics of Kibbutz has contributed to the group’s international success. It is based, among other things, on an ingenious synthesis of theatrical elements. Rami Be’er creates powerful images by masterly utilizing the capacities of light, space, rhythm, music, as well as the finely composed costumes and set design. All these aspects amount to a spectacular performance. The concept of the spectacular in this case is devoid of any pejorative connotations; on the contrary, it allows the audience to fully understand the intentions of the authors and appreciate the artistic value of the performance. Its goal is not to create a story, but to transmit a clear emotional message. It is mostly this way that leads the audience to reflection.
Therefore, Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company’s performances should be considered differently than fictional or conceptual forms of dance theater.
“Ekodoom” means a environmental disaster, an annihilation of nature. The leading theme of the performance is the figure of Gaia, thrashing inside a black box symbolizing the inside of the Earth. Above the box, an orange tree, whose fruit Gaia cannot reach. Her moves, though confined by the lack of room, continuously changes its character. Initially slow and even, yet full of internal tension. At times quick, rapid, reminiscent of pain. At other times, it seems peaceful and gentle. Gaia feels what consecutive scenes depict. Successive civilizations, aggression, wars, destruction. Gaia is a constantly pulsating source of life, thoughtlessly devastated by people, but as long as she lives, there is hope.
We can see successive, contrastive images appearing from the dark. There are figures dressed in long, multi-layered coats. Their color is suggestive of clay, of which humans were made. Their dance is fast, disturbing. Another time, processions of dancers appear, made uniform by their clothing and monotonous, rhythmical moves. The solo and the duos danced in the background can be seen as desperate struggles for individuality. Slowly yet steadily, he wall of human bodies incorporates the dancing individuals. Then, the horror and anxiety give way to bright, glaring colors, cheerful music, and scenes as if taken out of clownery. The performance, though, also abounds in beauty, oneirism, obtained using simple effects, such as light and artificial snow. There is, too, a moment of disillusionment, when the curtains are torn down, revealing the walls of the stage, thus transporting the action into the reality of the theater. Also strong is the rhythm of the performance, built up by music, motion, and the alternating sequences. The lyrical duos and trios are set against the impressively powerful group scenes.
Ekodoom is full of references: mythological, cultural, theatrical. The processions are evocative of Pina Bausch. The lyrical duo of the soldier and his mistress is a clear quotation from Kurt Joss’s The Green Table. The choreography includes steps from character dance, Hasidic dances, and Bavarian folk dances, drawing inspiration from various styles and aesthetics.
The woman in white dancing in a rain of snowflakes incorporates much of the mystically languid Far East. The scene evokes associations with the expressive geisha dance. Initially, the dancer – set in a narrow ray of light and amidst the stream of snowflakes – tells the story of her loneliness. After a while, the snow covers the entire stage, while the dancer is surrounded by figures in brown, multi-layered skirts. The final moment of the scene is brilliantly executed, with the geisha rising from the floor and making her way through the wall of the falling snow, setting the last petals of snow in motion again. Two figures in white, wearing linen turbans, enclosed in a golden frame, refer the audience to the high-brow aesthetics of European painting. The affectionate duo, featuring a woman and a man, seems to freeze every few moments in studied, picturesque poses. Their dance is centered around a model sitting on a chair. The recurring theme of dancers exchanging lines to a strong rhythm of German music is saturated with war-like brutality. The dancers approach the edge of the stage and freeze in powerful poses. At times, they drag other dancers by their hoods, knocking them down despite their hopeless struggles. A radically different ambiance is achieved by the colorful, cheerful scenes of grotesque clownery. A woman wearing a red dress runs around the stage, trying to hold on to an umbrella swept away by a gust of wind. She is accompanied by a man in a striped shirt and suspenders, reminiscent of the 1920s circus costumes. Altogether, the group delivers a breathtaking performance. Spectacular scenes evoke powerful emotions in the audience. The performing space seems to unceasingly change, both shrinking and expanding. It is transformed by the compositions of light and choreography, marvelously developed lines, broken by solos and duos. Ekoodoom is a tremendous performance, explosive and transcending the space of the stage. The stage of the Cultural Center in Bytom seemed too tight to accommodate it.
The sole weak spot in the performance could be its ending, featuring sung verses from “Everybody gets a little lost sometimes” and the tao sign, which the dancers transmit to the audience in the final gesture. Set against the work as a whole, this may be an unnecessary literality, particularly because there are other scenes that ease the pessimist overtone.
Regardless of differences in individual opinions and expectations towards dance theater, Ekodoom is unlikely to leave anyone unaffected, aesthetically enchanting and emotionally moving. The work captures the audience completely, forcing them to remain focused throughout the performance.
(First published in the “TEATR” monthly, no. 11/2009, as part of article by Regina Lissowska “Po szesnaste – Taniec!” [The Sixteenth Commendment - Dance!])