The Israeli’s on stage have been smiling a lot lately, smiling and laughing. There must be something really great going on in Israel these days, something that makes these dancers so overjoyed that they can’t help but to smile, to let it out on stage and show the world just have happy they are. Or something terribly funny. Something happening in this country that is so gosh-darn hilarious that it finds itself manifesting on stage. As if the dancers simply can’t help it because Israel is just too damn funny. I’m sure the United Nations sees the humor, too.
In Sharon Eyal’s latest work for the Batsheva Dance Company, “Bill,” the dancers, made up as identical specimens that are reminiscent of human beings but are clearly not of this world, rock out to an excellent score that bounces from seductive to groovy to trance-like. The work’s hypnotizing opening features five solos of these curious creatures who strut and spaz and seduce the audience. One of them, the always-captivating Rachel Osborne, plants herself at the lip of the stage and stares at the crowd with mischief in her eyes – those freaky bright-blue eyes (special contact lenses for all in this dance) to match her painted white hair. She’s a robot or an alien but either way, she’s going to devour you. Slowly her lips part and she breaks into a wide, delicious smile, laughs at a private joke, and brings her thumb to her mouth and fans her fingers like a little girl seeking comfort but playing at the same time. But it’s not a smile of happiness, its something a bit more enticing, a bit more deceptive. It’s a smile that beckons you to follow, one that will lead you astray.
“Animal Lost” by Yossi Berg and Oded Graf follows the couple’s amusing and successful formula of dance-theater that verges on silly, outrageous, and simply bizarre but with plenty of wit and poignant moments of insight. If there is a team that can make an animal striptease simultaneously sexy, scary, and meaningful, it’s these guys. Text plays a big part in their work, this time exploring the various identities that one tries on at various points or encounters through relationships and interactions – the identities, or aspects of identity that one alternately embraces or rejects, the identities that are external and thus visibly human as well as the ones that are internal and thus more closely connected to our animal self. At one point in the work, a titillating zebra with an ear for poetry starts to laugh uncontrollably. It’s unclear what the joke is but the laughter takes violent control of the body and pulses throughout. It’s a laugh that’s bigger than it ought to be, the kind that seems forced and unnatural (and is meant to be this way – I’m not talking about bad acting here, the actress was fantastic). It’s the kind of laugh that someone pulls to the surface to convince someone else, maybe themselves, that they’re ok. It’s a laugh that seeks to shield a person, or a people, from the ugly reality that surrounds them.
The work of the Maria Kong Dancers Company seems to be situated somewhere around the corner from the depths of Hell. Their first work, “Fling” was a dark and mysterious journey through corridors unknown. The first section of their new work, “Miss Brazil,” in collaboration with Idan Cohen (he’s responsible for the “Brazil” of the title) similarly submerges the audiences into a chamber of tortured souls. A series of metal gates swing open and closed at different points in the work, suddenly altering the landscape, suggesting that the world can shift in an unexpected moment. The four dancers struggle to control their inner demons to the distorted sounds of Bizet’s “Carmen,” each convulses and jerks forward as if pulled by a puppeteer from above or manipulated by some invisible radio wave. The effect is that of being stuck, glued in place – both a physical and psychological one – trying desperately to move forward and escape. And yet even within such a paranoid world, eerie smiles creep to the faces of the trapped. As the curtains close, Anderson Broz, hair and eyes wild and hungry, laughs big and full and ugly. It’s an evil laugh, a knowing laugh. A laugh saying there is no way out.
So perhaps laughter in Israel, or at least in Israeli contemporary dance at the moment, is not as light and pure as one might initially perceive. From the recent works I’ve seen that bring laugher to play (and there are several more in addition to the ones discussed above), laughter comes with dark undertones and sinister intentions. Like laughing at a funeral.