Dance, especially the modern kind, is right up there with cut diamonds and computer chips when it comes to Israeli exports.
On the contemporary dance circuit, Israeli companies and choreographers are renowned for daring works, unbridled choreographic approaches and downright chutzpah in crafting memorable and visceral dances. With made-in-Israel or made-by-Israeli propagating on dance stages around the world, from opera houses in Europe to top theatrical venues across North America, the influence of Israeli dance has spread far beyond the nation’s borders.
Last Thursday, Gallim Dance, a Brooklyn-based contemporary dance company, made its long anticipated Washington debut, bringing founder and choreographer Andrea Miller’s Blush and excerpts from the circusy Wonderland, danced by teenaged students of Bethesda’s Citydance, to Washington’s Lansburgh Theatre. The 80-minute program rides a tidal wave of emotions and states of being, which is no surprise: gallim is the Hebrew word for waves.
Miller danced with Batsheva Ensemble, the junior company of the famed and much-in-demand Batsheva Dance Company, Israel’s most significant dance troupe. Its director, iconoclast Ohad Naharin, has developed a unique methodology for teaching and creating movement – for dancers and non-dancers alike. Called “gaga,” Naharin’s dance language and concepts have recently become influential for dancers and choreographers the world over, and we’re beginning to see that interplay in works by Americans, like Miller.
In Blush, three women and three men dive head first into her loosely connected movement vignettes attacking them with unbridled abandon on a staged taped out like a boxing ring. Miller’s title, suggests the physiological change in a person’s body, their skin tone and surface, their blood pressure and temperature, their perspiration. It’s an involuntary reaction and the animalistic nature of much of the choreographer’s piece suggests that animals, too, must blush. Over the course of Blush, startling transformations occur as the dancers, painted in Kabuki-like white rice powder, begin to reveal their true skin tones – their blush, so to speak. As the body paint wears away through sweat and physical contact, splotches of pink, rose and red are revealed on knees, foreheads, elbows and thighs of the dancers. The dancers become metaphors for shedding their protective outer layer in revealing their blush.
Miller, who is Jewish, moved to Tel Aviv soon after she completed her college dance studies to join the Batsheva Ensemble in 2004. In a conversation we had a few years ago, Miller told me: “I think going to Israel was always something that I hoped I would have an opportunity to do as a Jew; it just made me all the more excited that it was going to be in conjunction with my aspirations as a dancer.”
Blush opens with tall, lanky Matthew Perez oozing out an incredible solo, which is part circus contortionist, part shaman, part gymnast – his muscles, sinews and bones shape and shift his body into seemingly impossible and, likely, never-before-seen human positions. As the rest of the dancers join Perez, a tribal-like society evolves in tandem with an original percussion-heavy score by Andrzej Przybytkowski. Men and women separately subvert expected gender roles: the women squat in their black leotards, legs spread wide open to the audience staring onlookers down, while the men, bare chested in belted black loincloths, cower in a dark back corner of the haze-filled stage, reticent to challenge their powerful female counterparts. Darwinian battles assert a survival of the fittest tone, placing the dancers in ongoing attack and retreat mode during the vignettes.
In the program notes, Miller no longer emphasizes her Batsheva training — it’s been nearly a decade since she returned to the United States to create Gallim Dance, which is based in Brooklyn and tours nationally and internationally. Yet gaga-isms from her Batsheva period remain evident.
She incorporates movement sequences suggesting animalistic behaviors – a beautiful sequence features two women, their fingers splayed above their heads, antler-like, butting together as if they’re rutting moose. At other times, they crawl or lie in repose, lizard-like, or squat to scoot on the floor like monkeys. Gaga also demands that dancers connect deeply with the physical sensations of the movement they’re performing. This freedom within the controlled choreographic structure provides moments of unbound ferocity and heightened senses. It looks like they might be making it up as they go along, but even within the rough and rustic nature of the dancers’ dangling and flung limbs – arms and legs akimbo – there is methodology to Miller’s madness.
In Blush, which premiered in 2011, and includes sections from other Miller works, among them Dust, an intimate male duet created even earlier in her career, Miller has gathered elemental material from her Israeli experience, but as any good artist does, has refined what she learned from gaga discovering her own voice amid the tendrils connecting her to her Israeli contemporary dance forbears.