The Work That Nearly Made Me Dance

Ruth Eshel

The Work That Nearly Made Me Dance 

(Originaly in in Hebrew; Translated by Tal Haran)

“Climax”  by Yasmeen Godder, performed at the exhibition “Set in Motion” in the Petach Tikva Museum of Art, generated a special dynamic between the dancers and their audience.

Lately we have been witnessing the return of dance to the museum. Why return? because from the late 1970s until the mid-1980s tight links were made between independent “alternative” dance artists and the visual arts. Museums, galleries, and events such as Nitzana and the Tel Hai festival hosted experimental dance and many works were site-specific. In those years of experimental dance, works were created with objects, and some of the artists collaborated with sculptors such as Avraham Ofek, Dalia Me’iri and Ziva Lieblich. A dialogue took place between the body and the sculpture/object, with the intention of creating a new language, as images emerge from the encounter of body and still matter. Performers danced with sculptures in museums as the audience followed them from one exhibit space to the next.

The point of this introduction is to state that these endeavors have now returned, but with a certain difference, and the distinction is interesting. First, sculptures created for a choreographer are placed inside showcases to be exhibited, namely they have a life of their own, independent of dance. In the showcases of the exhibition “Set in Motion” at the Petah Tikva Museum of Art, where Yasmeen Godder’s “Climax” was shown, one could see a rubber bra, a corset made of matchboxes, a horned beast with slashed bowels, a lion mask – all of them familiar from Godder’s former works.

But observing these objects close-up has more power than on stage. Another distinction, regarding the movement materials, is that no interest is evident in discovering a new language. Quite the contrary: movement phrases out of previous Godder works are used to create new combinations and integrate them in a different composition. The combination makes for a new work spread over two programs lasting three hours (with a twenty-minute break). Thus I would describe this work as an archeological exploration of Yasmeen Godder’s works, rebuilding with the same materials and enabling new interpretations, particularly because of the special relation with the audience.

The goings-on in the space take place on two levels. One is the choreography, whose every detail is constructed using the entire space of the exhibit rather than just parts of it, so there is no actual separation between the dance and the audience. The second level relates to the audience, which at least in the first part nearly filled the space and was surprised at not having its own place. In fact it must sit or stand or walk inside the changing composition. The dancers continued performing as though there was no audience, and on the other hand it was interesting to observe such a situation. As a spectator I could choose whether to make way for a dancer or the group in whose way I was standing, or remain at my spot and let them bypass me. Interestingly, you do ot know where you will find yourself inside the work – could be in the center of a circle, close to a screaming dancer, or in the way of a violent, dense, stomping clump. Most of the audience followed the goings-on with interest, some wonderment, and I admit that were I not a dance critic, I would have joined the dance. There is a powerful magnetism in a dancer performing so close to you.

The third level is that of the showcases displaying the objects from Godder’s works, as well as the films projected in the exhibition space. One could hear the music that accompanies them, whether the drumming in Mary Wigman‘s filmed performance of “The Witch” or the piano concerto accompanying the video by Anna K.A. When the dancers use their voices singing, screaming, weeping, or stamping their feel and clapping their hands, the background of the films offers additional levels.

“Climax” is a political work, perhaps an Israeli archeology. It is a mixture of the sense of togetherness of the circle of creators, togetherness and security, juxtaposed with the sense of insecurity as in the part where the group stands, hands rightly holding each other until bodies literally cling as if seeking mutual solace, as together they slide to a sitting position, back-to-back with the expression of lost children. Or when the group lies belly-down in a tight pile, all nodding back and forth like a whining child, or like someone who wishes to go back to the womb.

There are many powerful sections expressing pain, such as the clinging group advancing in a circle while one hand holds a dancer as if to strengthen the bond while the other hand is a closed fist stuck deep in the dancer’s mouth. There is also a wonderful solo performed by Dor Frank who stands weeping, as if trying to empty herself of a sea of pain in her belly, to go on crying until all the walls would be clear of pain. In contrast, much of the work contains violence, as in instants of gesture or movement the characters transform like actors, filled with highly charged energy. Iron-like hands are raised as fists, boxing-ring like, or a clump of dancers joining to create an evil mythological medusa with slithering snake hands and fingers splayed like a viper’s fangs. In other section, as if in transition, the dancers advance in their tracks amongst the audience, and look at it with shining eyes and an exaggerated smile.

In the work’s second part violence peaks as the hand with its stretched fingers becomes a pistol pointed at the brow of a dancer begging for his life and reality penetrates the museum. The following movement phrases get closer to the ground, dancers like casualties lie on the floor, waiting to be dragged out.

This is a very physical work, replete with movement phrases accumulated over the years. This is another component distinguishing it from the experimental dance that was created in Israel at the time, limited in movement and shying away from virtuosity, wishing to distinguish itself from the established “artsy dance” groups that performed here.

The wonderful dancers deserve praise no less than the choreography – they express a physical and emotional totality that does justice to the emotional roller coaster they embody. They radiate truth and that is why everything that takes place is so touching. It is happening here and now. Edu Turull concludes the first part of the work with the naïve singing of “Good Morning” familiar to all as the song with which kindergarten teachers receive the children in the morning. This is also the song with which Dikla concluded the dance “HALL” (2003). The second part is concluded by Dor Frank. She remains all alone, sitting, emptied. Her body language and gaze project an abyss of sadness, a kind of life summary, summation of a dream.