Jaffa Dance Show Pulls the Audience in – Literally

Ruth Eshel

In ‘Common Emotions,’ Yasmeen Godder once again explores new territory, this time by getting the audience involved. Unlike much of her previous work, this piece has a relaxed and playful feel.

Discovering and exploring new realms has been a theme in much of Yasmeen Godder’s work, and in her latest piece, “Common Emotions,” she has chosen “to challenge the traditional division between viewer and performer and enable the audience to genuinely experience emotional and performative dimensions, and let them advance and enhance the work in real time,” as it says in the program.

Since the 1960s, there have been numerous attempts in this vein to break down the barrier between stage and audience, between art and life. But Godder’s attempt stands apart for the way she has added an intriguing layering effect in the encounter between the here and now and some imaginary world, with the dancers and the people who have been invited up on stage moving between the different worlds in a continuous flow of events. Unlike much of her previous work, this piece has a relaxed and playful feel. The audience is invited to take part in it without risking a scary Godder-ish experience.

The piece begins in a neutral fashion with an ensemble of six dancers dressed in everyday clothing dancing, in unison, a series of movement phrases that are typical of Godder’s style, movements that are like letters whose continuation and combinations are impossible to 
predict. This opening section is well executed. It’s a starting point that says anything can happen now, and the trembling of the dancers’ fingers perhaps hints at something magical to come.

This is where one might expect audience members to be invited up on stage, but instead comes the splendid addition of an enormous curtain designed by Gili Avissar – a riotous patchwork of color reminiscent of Noa Eshkol’s quilted wall carpets. Thus another dimension is added to the work, which ushers viewers into a fairy-tale land and divides the stage in two – what’s behind the curtain and what’s in front of it. There are slits in the curtain that look like seams that have come unraveled, signaling that despite the liveliness of the colors, this is a curtain with a history, and the openings allow for a two-way view between the audience and the stage. Added to this is music that creates a sense of the vastness of outer space and offers a glimpse into other worlds that may have become extinct.

A feeling of mystery

At this stage all is ready for announcing the rules of the game, as a dancer stands next to the curtain and a maximum of 20 audience members are invited to come up on stage. As with other attempts that I’ve seen to involve the audience, here too the rules of the game shape the type of solutions that will arise.

At a performance in September (the work will be presented again this week, on Sunday and Monday), the audience was mainly young people, many of them dancers, and they were happy to go up on stage. If any of them thought they’d get to dance front and center, they were mistaken – for they were all immediately directed behind the curtain, lest there be any doubt as to who the real dancers on the program were.

Half-hidden, and following the dancers’ instructions, they danced in circles, cried, shouted, followed orders to do various things, and glimpses of all this were visible through the slits in the curtain, lending an apt feeling of mystery. Sometimes the people from the audience were instructed to join hands and move forward in a chain toward the front of the stage, to weave their way through the dancers and then return to their places, and the sight called to mind the nymphs in Nijinsky’s “Afternoon of a Faun.” So while the piece came into being as it was being performed, together with unknown participants, everything was still under control – and herein lay both the work’s strengths and weaknesses.

Gradually, figures left over from the earlier world began to appear. Colorful figures with beautiful masks who stood in contrast to the mundane modern-day activity at the front of the stage. What stayed with me the most from the modern-day part was an excellent dance by three men who are joined together, as well as an intriguing section featuring a circle in which the dancers are very close together and clutching each other’s hair as if to yank it out. This ongoing mixture of the imaginary and the day-to-day, of dreamlike music and silence, with a changing group of participants on stage, present but partially hidden – all combines to create a feeling of depth and fascination.