Idan Sharabi and Dancers with Vanessa Goodman is a mixed bag of both the captivating and the messy.
The night opens with local choreographer Vanessa Goodman’s work Wells Hill. Inspired by the text and theories of Marshall McLuhan and Glenn Gould, the piece begins with a delightful juxtaposition: McLuhan’s quote “Art is anything you can get away with” is projected on a screen while traditional ballet piano plays and the dancers begin their contemporary movements. This tongue-in-cheek attitude towards contemporary art is part of what made Wells Hill a joy to watch.
Visually Wells Hill lives in a simple-yet-stunning greyscale, with bright white lighting on grey and white costumes. The movements of the dancers are simple and light, the whole thing feeling as airy as a breezy summer afternoon.
Intending to explore communication and our relationship with medium and performance, this light touch reflects the way we easily accept and incorporate new media into our lives without realizing that we are ultimately letting it control us. This concept is relayed clearly in a final image of a dancer being manipulated, first by one other dancer, then another and another, until she has a small mob following and controlling her, and she barely even notices it’s happening.
The headliner of the night is Idan Sharabi, an Israeli choreographer who has worked extensively with the prestigious Netherlands Dans Theater and Batsheva Dance Company. His two pieces, Interviews and Makom explore the notion of “home”. Interviews is inspired by and uses recordings from, interviews Sharabi performed with various strangers about their sense of belonging. Makom, the Hebrew word for “a place”, and it is really a continuation of Interviews, with its choreography picking up exactly where Interviews left off.
While there is no denying the skill of the dancers, the choreography left me a bit cold. Portions of it were entrancing – the female dancers were highlights of the piece, one interrupting a duet between two men with passionate and serpentine movements in Interview. The main delight of Sharabi’s work, however, was the lead female dancer in Makom. Who knew it was possible for a dancer to have dry wit in her movements? Performing to Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”, it was here that the humour Sharabi attempts in the rest of the piece came through most clearly, as well as a clear sense of his exploration of home.
Unfortunately, the rest of the piece felt muddled, scattered, and a bit sloppy. This is not entirely a surprise since in his notes Sharabi states that he does not know the meaning of his work. Because of this, repeated motifs of choking, spectatorship, violence, and connection just feel like choppy, unexplored moments instead of a part of a cohesive whole. Many times, but not always, the dancers telegraph exactly what the recorded interviews are saying (for example, fanning themselves when the speaker talks about the hot California sun), making it unclear if they are intended to be acting out the speeches or accompanying them.
That said, my date for the evening experienced the flip side of this, saying that the choreography felt “grounded and real” for her, helping her follow and understand the content of the interviews. The responses from the opening night audience indicate that they seemed to equally appreciate the work.
With such a strong opener, it’s too bad that the headliner fell a bit flat, but the skill of the dancers and the concepts explored in Idan Sharabi and Dancers with Vanessa Goodman are still worth taking in.
Idan Sharabi and Dancers with Vanessa Goodman continues as part of the 2015 Chutzpah! Festival until February 28 at The Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre (950 West 41 Ave, Vancouver). Visit https://chutzpahfestival.com for tickets and information.