The third and final of the dance offerings in this year's Chutzpah! Festival showcases the return of the acclaimed Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, in the North American premiere of If at All, the latest evening-length work by Artistic Director Rami Be'er.
Be'er favours dramatic openings, often solos by female dancers that begin in silence. Such is the case here as the curtains part to reveal a long-limbed, raven-haired beauty in a square of white light centre stage, and with a plié that just won't quit. Slowly, she makes her way upstage, pausing under an illuminated orb that resembles a full moon. She bends deeply at the knees once more, clasping her hands in front of her and circling her arms about her torso in ever-widening arcs, as if she is stirring a cauldron.
What is conjured from this opening is another of Be'er trademarks, and what for me makes his work so compelling kinesthetically and emotionally: the full company bursting onto the stage full throttle to anthemic music, closing ranks in a circle, before breaking off into separate (and often separately gendered) group formations that showcase Be'er's full body choreography in recurring patterns of unison and canon movement, often supplemented by his own lighting and costume designs.
In the case of It at All, the sequence that really grabbed hold of me at the beginning was the one featuring the seven male company members who, clad in full blooming grey skirts, one by one break out of the circle and fall to the ground at the lip of the stage in front of individual orange floor spots (except for the man furthest stage left, who had no floor spot in front of him, and who remained motionless on his side until the very end of this sequence). Eventually the men raise themselves onto their elbows and knees, their faces now square with the floor spots, and begin to repeat a few simple movements with their arms that involve variations of support and release at the joints, and that through successive serial additions become mesmerizing. Indeed, the patterns gradually become faster, more complicated, the men rolling stage right to the next floor spot as each takes a vertical solo turn upstage before returning to the line (maybe because I'm teaching it on Friday, I was reminded a little bit of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's famous Rosas Danst Rosas here).
It is Be'er's ability to combine this kind of highly structured group movement with more free-flowing solos and duets that makes his work so unique. Not that everything last night was perfect. I think the piece as a whole was too long, and there were some awkward transitions. But it's a credit to the folks at Chutzpah!--and a boon to local audiences--that Vancouver continues to remain a tour stop for what is perhaps the best known contemporary Israeli dance company after Batsheva.
If at All continues tonight through Saturday at 8 pm, with an additional 2 pm matinee on Sunday. It is preceded by Zion, a courtship duet by Barak Marshall (of BJM's Harry fame), and danced winningly by local talents James Gnam and Rebecca Margolick.