Steve Sucato, Cleveland.com | November 10, 2014
No doubt about it: Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company stuns with 'If At All' (review)
The idea of circularity in life and our existing in circles of the individual, the couple, and society was the theme for Israeli choreographer Rami Be'er's 2012 dance work "If At All," performed last weekend by Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in the Ohio Theatre at at PlayhouseSquare in Cleveland.
The underlying theme of circles, figurative and abstract, is a recurring one in some of Be'er's over 40 works for KCDC including 2002's "Screensaver," which the company performed in nearby Pittsburgh in 2005, the last time they visited the region.
Set to an eclectic mix of music from alt-rockers Nine Inch Nails to composer Max Richter, the 65-minute continuous work presented by DANCECleveland on Sunday began with a solo by dancer Olga Stetsyuk to the Bon Iver song "Woods." On a darkened stage backed by a small moon/sun-like projection on a rear stage curtain, Stetsyuk danced with lithesome athletic power in Be'er's signature full-body, full-throttle movement style. In a crouched stance she stretched side to side into back-bent and arched poses that screamed beauty and power.
Early practitioners of the contemporary dance genre that has recently taken over the dance world, KCDC, like several other Israel-based dance companies including Ohad Naharin's Batsheva Dance Company, are among the world's elite. Be'er's expertly-crafted and polished choreography for "If At All," and KCDC's adroit dancers' performance of it, was inspirational.
The abstract work continued as a flood of dancers ran onto the stage circling Stetsyuk. Seven male dancers in long black skirts broke from the throng and dropped into fetal positions in a horizontal line across the front of the stage and in front of Stetsyuk who continued her solo far behind them.
The men then moved upright to hunch over individual footlights executing a unison pattern of bobbing heads and pounding fists as one at a time each dancer rose to perform a wild solo. The solos had the dancers flinging their bodies about the stage, flailing their arms, some staggering, some convulsing and falling to the floor while their compatriots continued their unison pattern at the front of the stage.
The multi-talented Be'er, who not only choreographed the work but provided lighting, sound and costume design for the production, created atmospheric moods and a cinematic soundscape in which feelings of conflict and turmoil, love and nurturing invaded the space, one after the other, dissipated for a time, only to circle back and repeat once again.
One such repeated image was of dancer Renana Randy bursting onto the stage being held back by a group of male dancers like a captured animal. She aggressively tried to break free from the men holding her arms and torso, her long black hair whipping the air around them. Just as jarring: as she and the men tore onto the stage, they faded away, to be replaced by another scene conveying a very different kind of emotion and beauty.
As the work poured through a litany of fabulous solos, duets, trios and groups dances whose images occurred and then reoccurred, Be'er's choreography drove home that theme of circularity in work's structure and intent. Infused into the soundtrack were voice-overs speaking of "multiplicity" and the idea "that we are many people, not just one," and a woman stating: "Just because a person looks nice on the outside doesn't mean they are nice on the inside." All hinting that the circles in life intersect in some way.
Perhaps the most moving scenes in the intense work involved the dancers performing to sounds of gunfire, explosions and people screaming, conjuring up images of the military conflicts plaguing the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, along with a tender duet danced by Randy and dancer Niv Elbaz to a remix of Icelandic composer lafur Arnalds' "Vi vorum sm". The music's haunting melody and eerie childlike computer generated voice repeating the phrase "As our last lost chance," cut through the theater space, adding to the overwhelming sense that in "If At All," we were witnessing something truly special.
The work closed with a marvelously patterned group dance that, like the music it was set to, built in intensity. The stirring unison choreography came to an abrupt end as the dancers, on the music's final note, all froze in a pose staring out into the audience eliciting a standing ovation from the audience.