Israeli dance company L-E-V, Eyal and Behar bring the Gaga to the House | Arts

Israeli dance company L-E-V, Eyal and Behar bring the Gaga to the House


  • Courtesy of artist
Memorial Hall, UNC Campus
Oct. 9, 2013

The curtain opens on a dusky cloud—one writhing figure showing only from the shimmer on her black leatherette body. Now liquid, now lurching, she winds through twilight towards us, clawing and morphing. With her oil-slick catsuit and her angular, broken gestures, she’s a vogue queen—or a drowning bird from the Exxon Valdez.

More dim light blooms and she fades into a crowd in nude bodysuits, who flex in low second-position plie, their bony pelvises jutting, shifting in and out like pistons in a machine. One woman stalks forward, every second step jerking out of joint. She looks like a sexy stop-motion dinosaur. Light transfixes one figure so that her enormous quivering shadow stands on each side of the auditorium—a figment of another world cast into ours.

Touring their American premiere of House, Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s company L-E-V rolled into UNC’s Memorial Hall this past Wednesday on an impressive wave of style. This style comes with a pedigree: Eyal danced and choreographed for Israel’s powerhouse Batsheva, which might be the most influential company in the world right now, thanks to Batsheva director Ohad Naharin’s wild anything-goes dance technique, which he appropriately calls Gaga.

L-E-V does not do Gaga; they do Gaga on crank. Anything can still happen at any time, any move can spill out of any other, but in Eyal and Behar’s hands this feels like a liability rather than a wellspring. A walk cracks over into a sickening cantilevered backbend as if a void has opened in the dancer’s spinal column. Unlike Gaga’s pliant ease, L-E-V’s dance is brittle, discontinuous, fiercely controlled, and where Gaga suggests smooth planes of muscle sliding one over another, L-E-V is all nerve, bone, and sinew.

If Gaga pushes the human body beyond definition, L-E-V defines its dancers as irredeemably other: odd, busted, beautiful bipeds. It doesn’t hurt that L-E-V also comes with fantastic design: stunning lighting by Avi Yona Bueno, live sound by Ori Lichtik, and costumes by Ma’ayan Goldman and Odelia Arnold.

But after a while, all the black vinyl all the world can’t keep House’s choreographic deficits hidden. Images arise and pass, striking, but untapped. In a long, sagging middle section, the dancers face front, stagger or swagger impressively forward, and then, less impressively, creep back into the gloom. When they’re not making a move, they often shuffle in place, plying their elastic limbs like sexy Saint Sebastians. Seductive as these variations on standing and walking can be, I started to miss jumping, turning, the floor, partnering, dance steps—all the rich choreographic resources Eyal and Behar leave untapped.

Until, that is, almost the end of House, when Eyal and Behar suddenly snap it all together in what I can’t help thinking of as a music video: the eight dancers stride back and forth to “Finish What You Start” in addictive synchrony, working, swaying, sashaying, discobots engineered to please. Here, you can still quibble over deeper layers, but you can’t resist the eye candy: I might have hated myself later, but I would happily have lapped up an evening of this stylish entertainment.

The title House suggests a variety of creepy associations—a cult, an asylum, a prison—but this section provides its most convincing referent: House as in dance club. Who lives in this house? No one. This house is a way station: It is where people go to become other than themselves.

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