Simple Action Review – Ora Brafman

Ora Brafman

Yasmeen Godder presents a new work that reinforces a particular path she has gradually developed and now, so it seems, it has matured and heightened some of the aspects of the road she has chosen.

“Simple Action”, to a great extent, is just that. It’s a series of primarily simple actions performed in front of an audience and that requires its active participation. If the measure is exposure time in front of an audience, then the audience members’ contribution to the viewing experience is equal to that of the dancers.

The line separating the skilled professional dancer and all the individuals comprising the group of spectators known as “audience” – has been broken. If thus far interaction between professional and amateur participants has been sporadic and varied, now the roles are seemingly equal. Apparently. The remnants of the traditional power structure continue to exist in an introverted manner, underneath what is in plain view. That is because the dancers hold information inaccessible to the rest of the participants.

A rough, schematic description of the action would go like this: each of Godder’s six dancers chooses a partner from the group of about forty people, the audience, seated on simple chairs along the room’s four walls. In the first stage, a female dancer approached a young, blushing male spectator and invited him to get up and join her, hand in hand, to the center of the room. She quietly explained something to him, undoubtedly giving him instructions on their near cooperation, and tried to reach a certain understanding with him. In this particular case, he was to remain passive and let loose, yield his control to take part in a ‘simple action’.

The spectator more or less leaned back, to the extent of which he trusted the abilities of the dancer that invited him. The dancer enfolds him, supporting his back and neck, and asks him to let go entirely. Meaning, to trust him. Trust is key here.

The dancer estimates the spectator’s weight and slowly forms a stable posture that would allow him flexibility. He holds his partner steadfastly and efficiently and tries to spread him across the floor, without the subordinate’s assistance. If there’s trust right from the start, the action is smooth, elegant, flowing and appears natural. When the spectator is nervous, too self-aware and doesn’t fully trust the dancer or is afraid to lose control in public, the “lying down” ceremony may seem contrived and clunky.

It’s a subtle game of surrender and submission, containment and great attention, a game of trust and faith.

As the work progresses, it accumulates ritualistic characteristics, those of faith and of an almost unexplained spirituality that not only stems from what’s taking place in the center of the stage, but also from the compassionate, concentrated gaze of those observing the process.

A beautiful happening is conceived and despite what’s written in the opening paragraph, a big part of the credit is due to the manner in which the six dancers charged the interaction between the couples, with great attention and generosity and at times, with inner human warmth that has the capacity to melt limits and limitations.

The dancers, unlike the unsuspecting spectator, are fully aware of the context in which they operate. Godder tries to leave the audience in a haze and that’s why ticket-buyers weren’t handed programs before the show. If they had read it, they would see that under the work’s title “Simple Action”, it says: “A choreographic action with audience participation, inspired by ‘Stabat Mater’.” And that’s some heavy burden. I suppose that had they known they’d be facing the audience as Jesus Christ, it would alter their behavior. Most simply tried to let go and go with the flow. Some if succeeded to so all the way down.

The canonical text was the firm basis of the piece throughout. It is one of the most important texts of the 13th century’s Catholic Church wherein the author laments Maria’s pain watching her son’s tormented final moments on the cross. That pivotal moment where he is brought down from the cross to her bosom, the “Pieta” (mercy), has been immortalized in thousands of visual art pieces, in music, literature, and poetry.

Godder collaborated with musician Tomer Damsky to adapt the musical accompaniment. This intriguing musician performed her own original musical interpretation while playing the Shruti box which is reminiscent of a square bellows or an accordion, only more monotonous. My untrained ear was unable to detect any of the words, and not only because they were Latin. It sounded like a collection of vowels in some ancient Nordic language that Damsky took apart into separate, elongated syllables and sang them in the mesmerizing style of the Tibetan monks. In my mind, this was a great interpretation.

That ‘simple action’, recreating the “Pieta” in slightly different variations over dozens of times throughout the evening had its own hypnotic effect. It was intensified by Damsky’s audio-musical accompaniment creating a ritualistic, spiritual, new-agey atmosphere that gave the evening a beguiling, unique quality of an experience simple on the one hand, yet complex on the other, never letting go if its rare humane stature. Immensely enjoyable.