Written by Marc Arboleda
Edited by Edmond Kilpatrick
Interviews/Makom @ The Chuzpah Festival Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre, February 28 @ 8PM
The late choreographer Pina Bausch once said that she was more interested in what moves people, rather than in how they move. Indeed, when reflecting on the behavior of someone we tend to search for a cause, a motivation for their actions. Why did they do that? What were they thinking? What were the circumstances that led them to act that way? These are necessary questions to ask, of course, if we want to better understand another person. However, asking these questions and receiving answers does not guarantee deeper insight into a person’s mind. Sometimes I find myself shaking my head in utter disbelief and exclaiming, like Judge Brack in Henrik Ibsen’s play Hedda Gabler, people don’t do such things! Exasperated and defeated, I resign myself to the fact that that person will perhaps remain a mystery to me.
A more specific question we might ask a person when we’re curious about what moves them is where are you from? The question of a person’s origin is a big one from which arises some answers as to why they do what they do. For instance, when we discover that a person whose actions we find peculiar – let’s say in a way that we feel is culturally taboo – comes from a different culture, we might then have some reason to exercise tolerance towards their behavior. As an artist who is very interested in the physical and psychological encounter between two performers on stage, this question resonates with me. What happens when two dancers face each other at center stage? What happens they meet each other’s eyes? And, what might happen when they start to mirror each other’s movements?
Idan Sharabi’s dance piece Interviews/Makom features such an encounter between two dancers. It is a piece that explores questions revolving around the idea of “home” as well as questions posed by the choreographer during interviews he had conducted in shelters in Gaza in July 2014. In the program notes Sharabi expresses that his “greatest longing as a man living in this messy, beautiful world, is to find a way to see through another person’s eyes.” In this critical review, I would like to analyze a single, but essential, moment in the piece: when two people stand face to face without uttering a single word to one another. And, through this analysis, I will argue that this moment effectively expresses the artist’s longing to “see through another person’s eyes,” a phrase he writes in the show’s program notes.
The piece began with a bare stage and with basic lighting. We know that we’re about to witness a performance. Then, a woman entered the upstage left corner and laid face down on the floor. Next, a man entered and stood next to her. This image was pregnant with political and choreographic implications. I remember thinking about one of the questions that Sharabi had asked in the program: “Who is a victim and can he become a manipulator.” I wondered what both the woman and the man were thinking at that moment. And, of course, I needed to know what would happen next…
What did happen next was simultaneously predictable and engaging. Another man entered the downstage right corner and started to move through loose-limbed phrases, punctuated by brief freezes of various joints, breaking up the continuous flow of the movements. The movements were quite striking and had easily directed my attention away from the upstage people and towards the man. That man was Sharabi. Nevertheless, I did register the relationship of the three people, who by this point, I had perceived to be more like performers on stage rather than people on stage. Also, I remember wondering whether Sharabi had intentionally wanted the audience to see some kind of relationship triangle between the performers.
From here a series of unison and solo sections took place, during which a dancer had often taken on the movement of another dancer. This is significant, as the dancer who had imitated another dancer didn’t do so to poke fun at the other dancer, but apparently in order to see what they saw.
Two dancers (Idan Sharabi and Dor Mamalia) stood centre stage facing each other. One of them started to move his arms and legs in a sinewy, undulating manner while the other began to casually remove his pants. The two dancers performed these actions in a matter-of-fact way such that I was encouraged to notice primarily the physical actions rather than any psychological, political or sexual implication of those actions.
Once the first dancer has fully removed his pants, though, the second dancer also started to remove his. It then became challenging for me not to read a sexual connotation into the scene. What might happen next? The instance became more of a theatrical and dramatic event rather than a purely physical one. Was this Sharabi’s intention? And, yet no words were uttered. Why? What was going on? Before other such questions had a chance to arise, both dancers then quickly put their pants back on and, once fully clothed, moved sharply towards each other and stopped just before their faces touched. This moment was striking and evocative. I was reminded of those moments in my own experience when I would gaze deeply into another person’s eyes trying to get a sense of what was going on inside their mind. Moreover, another one of the questions that Sharabi had asked in the program notes passed through my mind, “Where are you from?”
Next, the two dancers started to move in unison creating a left/right symmetrical image on their bodies through placing their limbs in various architectures. I read this as a kind of kinetic empathy whereby each dancer became, in a sense, the other. It is this moment that I think most effectively expresses Sharabi’s longing to see through another’s eyes. The pair of dancers moved through several spatial configurations, which consisted of one dancer in front of the other as well as the two of them side by side. Each configuration allowed me to hold Sharabi’s longing in my mind, so to speak, as I watched both men communicating deeply with each other; and, eerily, seeming to become a single person. The subtlety of these moments is a testament to Sharabi’s artistry.
Furthermore, having given Interviews/Mokom more thought, I now realize that not only was Sharabi successful in expressing his yearning to see through another person’s eyes in the moment when the two male dancers met face to face, but was also successful in provoking me to see through his own eyes. By choreographing himself into almost every section of the piece, he forced me to see him observe – and be observed by – the other dancers. And, so it seems that I had empathized with him as he had empathized with the other dancers.
Pina Bausch’s curiosity about what moves people once again comes to mind. What makes someone do what they do? What were they thinking about just before they acted? Idan Sharabi’s piece Interviews/Makom may not give the answers to those and other similar questions, but it does artfully offer an experience of asking them.