At Least We All Eat Hummus

Last night, two performances were paired together for something that White Bird calls, New Israeli Voices in Dance, presented at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall. It is part of their Uncaged program and runs through Saturday night. Both of these featured works are minimal in their stage and costume design, which I suspect makes the show possible, financially speaking. Not that such a limitation withdraws from quality, because in the case of these works, it is to their advantage.

The first, Exhibit B by Ate9 Dance Company, and the second, We Love Arabs by Hillel Kogan.

Exhibit B starts strong with fast-looping music from Omid Walizadeh, the kind that literally grips your brain. The curtain rises and all dancers are on stage, in pairs. I see a reclusive, meditative pair, two casually sitting and interacting pairs, and one disjointed pair because one is dancing solo at center-stage while the other cleans the floor with a towel. The floor-cleaner is Choreographer, Danielle Agami, making it clear she’s willing to hold her weight in the group. She’s a spry thirty-year old woman, young by the standard of her accomplished career.

Stage goes black. Music is pounding with industrial-style beats and upfront glitches. In their pink-fleshy costumes (also by Agami) you can make out their outlines scattering the stage, or setting up a new scene. Music continues at full volume during blackouts. These short scenes are not broken up by music, only light. So the energy builds with the music, providing continuity between blackouts. A lighting scheme by Portland’s Jeff Forbes makes for unique moods for every scene.

In one scene, dancers try to run across the stage, as if a No Man’s Land, all of them collapsing, followed by another dragging them off-stage. These happen very quickly, but with enough suspense to question what will happen next. One such casualty remains on the floor, followed by someone who steps out for a solo, as if impervious to sniper fire, or whatever it was taking them down. She is eventually gobbled up by all the dancers, concealed, prevented from being known.

Mysterious meaning like this kept me plagued with thought, which is not always a pleasant experience, even for people who enjoy thought. I am actually on the fence with my interpretation for this one. I review without notes and go in without conditioning—researching only as much as necessary until fingers reach the keyboard—to allow the meaning to digest in dreams, then I tackle the residual impressions over coffee.

This idea of subconscious information connects to the next performance by Hillel Kogan, who repeatedly states that the audience receives the information (entirely coded into expressionistic dance) and he trusts them to take it and understand it later—whether they know it or not. Before going into the second half, some reflections.

Ate9 Dance Company could be looked upon as an expression of diversity in itself. Prestigious dance troupes more typically favor a certain body-standard, not necessarily for the concept of sexiness or ethnic purity, but for their predictable movement and appearance—but still it perpetuates the body-race-image complex. Some companies are going against the current and bringing a range of body types and skin tones to their troupe, and Ate9 is forerunning that movement especially because they are located in Los Angeles, CA, a place of great diversity and body-standards juxtaposed, and roots in Tel Aviv, where ethnicity is a constant source of conflict.

Ariana Daub, I noticed for her personality, brings so much expression. Micaela Taylor brings a determined grace and athleticism—she also has that ready-made dancers’ body. Agami herself brings something fierce. Everyone deserves credit for a powerful new work that premiered on the West Coast last night. If I watched it again, I would look more closely at their expression. In the dazzle of fast-moving beautiful people, being untrained in the language of dance, I now realize how much I miss.

The second half of this double feature is an extemporaneous performance by Hillel Kogan with Adi Boutros. Kogan masterminds a new work with Adi on the spot. I wonder if, at one time, it wasn’t so well-developed. It is a two-year old work and I think they have worked together on it and have the main events plotted out.

It is narrated by Hillel, at first to the audience, where he awkwardly tries to explain his struggle in the creation process. I felt like I was receiving secrets from a choreographer about the experience of dance and being a dancer. Physically, emotionally, spiritually–he put that into words, giving the audience a chance to build empathy.

He has this notion of space that invites and rejects. He wants to find an Arab that he believes the space is inviting. If you follow Israeli politics—and might have after the Netanyahu speech to Congress—then you might have heard the struggling Prime Minister alert his voting base that Arabs were being bussed out in droves. Arabs don’t have much place in Israeli society, especially in Tel Aviv, where both of these dancers work. Although Hillel is not tackling the political process, he is confronting division and a bonding relationship.

This premise brings Adi Boutros on-stage. From then forward, Adi receives most of the attention. Their interaction is very funny. Hillel is satirizing himself, the expressionist choreographer, yet he is still building a pretty interesting work. In that he almost seems like a hack modern dancer, I think the personality of shallowness helps demonstrate the stupidity of racism. It illuminates the cultural assumptions that The Ignorant embody. His satire is not targeting shallow dancing, it is targeting shallow other-ness.

Adi frequently broke up in laughter and they both kind of had this secret smirk for the audience throughout the piece. When they finally reach a performance set to Mozart, with a fog machine, after a tedious, funny build-up, it is impressive. Technically, their skill is excellent; Adi appears to be weightless. I think he works on his “b-boy” skills just as much as modern ballet. The humor that Hillel develops with this ludicrous theme finally comes to a climax with a truly unifying act.

We Love Arabs and Exhibit B pair well together for their variety and totally different pacing, and make for a satisfying program. I hope you get a chance to see it for yourself.

Sean Ongley

By Sean Ongley

Co-Founder of THRU Media. A background in non-profit, music, and radio preceded my ambitions here. Now, I aspire to produce new media and publish independent journalism at this site and beyond.

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