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In a Thick Green Space an Illuminating Multi-Sensual Experience is Created:
of Visuals, of Music, of Movement
“Trees warp time” writes the British author John Fowles in his poetic essay “The Tree”, when describing how he feels as soon as he enters “one of the countless secret little woods” where he lives, almost like “leaving land to go into water, another medium, another dimension”. The same feeling applies to spectating Nina Traub’s new extraordinary work “Faintings”, which begins with a beautiful Mise-en-scène: at the center of the large stage is a smaller, round, stage and in its heart a minimalistic wooden sculpture, resembling a weeping willow, whose naked branches canopies Zoe Polansky that sits in their shadow surrounded by musical instruments. The entire back wall is an acrylic painting on paper, huge in its dimensions, and in it more and more jets of green branches are bursting, slanting downwards, bending with tears.
When the eye gets used to the greenish darkness, it observes three additional characters: dancers Meshi Olinky, Tamar Kisch, and Traub herself, all in dark long wigs and greenish shiny garments. Throughout the piece they will stray amongst the misty sonic forest Polansky will produce from the stage, meticulously executing a restrained and proudly performed, well-forged choreography, a systematic arrangement of actions, executed almost exclusively in unison, without breaking the lines. “Faintings”, it seems, does lead to a temporal blackout, for as I have finished watching the performance, I felt as if awakening from a daydream, from a sweet-disturbing stroll through a thick brush of sublime thoughts and images.
The piece begins with a solo by Olinky, who walks to center stage and aspires to expand from the center outwards, extending her hands backward and her leg to the side, and only when finished examining the limbs’ ability to stretch to their full extent, grabs her foot and drops forwards. The back of her hand clutched to her forehead, pushes her head back and forces the body to rearrange vertically above the tip of the toes. A simple gesture embodies a battle between two elements reveled in “Faintings”: one hand is flapping wildly as if asking to detach itself from the body, whilst the other hand grips it at the wrist and denying it of its freedom, domesticating its rebellious nature and taming it back to the strict, undefiable, choreography.
Under the severe surface, flickers a flame constantly striving to break free, time and time again emerges a raging turbulent inner reality threatening to ascend, and if not for the tight choreography, it seems, it may flood to the point of fainting.
Fowels wrote “The Tree'' in 1979 as an essay dealing with the relationship between man and nature, by differentiation between himself and his father. Whilst the father favors gardening and pruning fruit trees, in other words cultivated nature, Fowels prefers the wild, the forest hadn't been touched by a human hand. Traub’s choreography, at least superficially, Is the embodiment of trimming and fencing, demarcation and arrangement; There is nothing natural in Traub’s movements, which is formed from simple gestures and steps, all measured, calculated, carried out with geometrical accuracy and well laid out in space - and still she corresponds with the wild woods, with the natural chaos; It surfaces in the voices of the straining dancers' exhalations, in their (artificial) hair following their head uncontrollably as it plunges forward, covering their whole back as they stand on the tip of their toes, or in the emotional baggage that comes with trembling knees, which doesn’t nullify even in the face of the recognition of it being an artificial, orchestrated gesture, like the ones preceding it.
Most of the piece is performed with exceptional accuracy, as the three dancers move as one: laying on their stomachs, their faces invisible to the eye, disconnecting their chests and legs from the ground, arching backwards and tucking their faces in the back of their elbows, thus moan loudly; sit on their knees; swinging their arms as if trying to take off and soar and succeed for a moment, the three of them up in the air, and immediately back to their knees; standing up, their hands rotate, become blades of a human wind turbine generating energy in perfect sync; advancing while performing a wave motion, mechanically-sensually, in which their pelvis jerk forwards as their knees slam back, growling as they slowly raise their hands, circling the stage in a rhythmic motion, pulsing, without breaking the triangular structure in which they are arranged.
“Good philosophers prune the chaos of reality and train it into fixed shapes" Fowles writes in his book. Traub does something similar: The precisely crafted choreography is as if to cover mysterious wild nature. As explained by Idan Landau, the Hebrew translator of John Fowles’ “The Tree”, last year, “Fowles ‘nature’ is not only external reality, but a constant internal presence”. This presence is what emerges, growls and grunts under Traub’s choreography: At a certain point the three exhale together while moving forward on the floor, gasping loudly as they retreat and then producing a wild roar as they charge forwards. This wild, rough being, ever bubbling and on the verge of bursting out, behind the steady choreography is what gives it its power. This, to Fowles, is “the wild side”, the inner emotion opposed to the mainstream pretense. Eventually, it is a private discourse between two supposedly conflicting elements, similar to the complexity portrayed by Zelda in her poem “Two Elements” in which the cypress tree remains restrained and silent in contrast to the raging fire who cannot understand that inside the tree’s alleged stability, chaos gushes as well.
“Faintings” offers an instructive multi-sensual experience: of visuals, of music, of movement. The choreography, dense and delightfully simple, is treated with an in-depth interpretation and wonderful execution by the dancers; Their chantings curtained by Polansky’s guitar; their movement wanders the thick green volume of the stage, and without noticing, the spectator is sucked into an elusive adventure in time, surprisingly ending with the sound of their choky wailings, testaments to the ongoing battle between the wild and the tamed, from which originates any work of art.
Fainting by Nina Traub, co-creator: Meshi Olinky. Costumes: Sia Preminger. Set design: Nina Traub, Dror Tshuva, Amit Drori. Light Design: Hanni Vardi and Yair Vardi. Original music: Zoe Polansky and Nina Traub.
Hazira International Performance Art Arena, Jerusalem, 03.02.2022
“Waterfalls”, Nina Traub’s debut work, expresses precise, mature artistic language, exceptional among young Israeli dance artists. The piece opens with an eerie, uneasy atmosphere. The stage is flanked on both sides by two waterfalls of wavy, jet black fabric, joining gushing river that defines and delimits the area Traub is about to enter. Even before her black-clad figure appears, short, high pitched screeches are heard, like seagulls or praying birds, echoing throughout the room as Traub comes forward slowly, with her head tilted back, fully covered with her hands, that are spread with her thumbs and fingers creating a diamond centered on her wide-open mouth. When Traub nears the front of the stage, it is revealed that it is she herself who screams, but the voice does not come directly from her mouth, but rather from a speaker hidden beneath her shirt, amplifying and reverberating the sounds captured by the microphone attached to her head. This is a cry from the inside - but artificially reworked, mediated.
This feeling of strangeness, of defamiliarization is entwined throughout the piece, replacing the “natural” with the unnatural, restraining the expressive qualities of the moving body with formal reins of meticulously structured choreography. Traub is joined by two other dancers, Meshi Olinky and Carmel Ben Asher, wearing like her a long-haired wig, with their legs shod with strange, blocky boots as they slowly move as if they were wearing slabs of concrete and not shoes made of sponge. Lying on their sides, with heels closely clenched and looking like tailfins, the three appear to be mermaids, and with the sound coming from the speakers attached to their bodies, they become sirens, those mythological creatures whose enchanting singing lured sailors to their deaths. Throughout the dance, the dancers remain alienated from themselves, even as they lay on their sides with their knees constantly banging, or as their legs are rooted to the ground with their arms circling in the air again and again, as if trying unsuccessfully to rise upward. The remote performance seems to imply a formalistic piece, centered on the structures created by the three, the synchronization between them, the movements for themselves. However it is indeed the strict order, precision and repetitiveness that expose the need of all these as means to reach the depths, the subterranean rapids of the emotions which are the root and cause of the work and poke through the speakers in the voice of the dancers carrying them.
Traub is able to create a world with a distinctive visual language, a unique sound palette and a well-defined range of movement - a significant excitement for any artist, and especially for a debut work. In much of the piece, the dancers move in unison, echoing each other, reflecting through movement the sound emanating from their bodies, also duplicated. The well-synchronized execution repeats throughout, weaving measured, precise angular hand movements with small gestures of a head on its axis or eyelashes flickering in an artificial manner. Some parts of the choreography are too long or end for no apparent reason, but this does not diminish from the full experience of the whole, which is also assisted by the sincere and dedicated performance of the exceptional dancers. Traub’s language is new and requires another work or two to become more refined, and then more comprehensible to the audience, but it is already clear now that this new language is profound and intriguing.
A key moment of the dance involves a doubling of the happenings on the stage - an artistic ruse called myse en abyme, when the “internal” part reflects the work it is embedded in (like a story within a story, or a film within a film). Traub is at the back of the stage, opening a hidden box in the wall, which is discovered to be a small, greenish stage, and she enters it after taking off her shoes. Standing in the middle of the small stage, which itself is in the middle of the big stage, she turns her back to the audience and a guitar is strumming in the background. Traub’s voice joins the music, starting with choking sobs, that become clearer and clearer - but also more orderly, musical. The cry becomes a song. This moment encapsulates the work’s underlying essence - the pain becomes a source of art, and this art, as Traub express it, can create beauty from darkness. In this sense, Traub’s song is not siren-like, but rather belongs to another mythological hero - Orpheus.
Orpheus, a musician and singer (that even silenced the sirens with his voice in one of his voyages), descended to the underworld in order to save his wife Eurydice, but could not obey the rule set by the gods and looked back at her, too early, before they left the underworld. “Writing starts with the gaze of Orpheus”, wrote Maurice Blanchot, the French writer and philosopher. Therefore writing, or all act of creation, starts at the moment of looking into the underworld, the void, the darkness. With the materials they drew from this darkness, artists weave their creations. The poet Yona Wallach suggested constructing a large dam next to the springs of pain. Traub turns the black waterfalls into the wellsprings of her art. Just like Orpheus, using song and movement she offers the audience redemption and consolation, expressing more and more possibilities of beauty, but without climax - as, like Yona Wallach wrote, this pain is but an infinite reservoir, life itself.
In the closing moment of the work, the three dancers lay on their backs. Now their voices come from the depths of their bellies, in a deep low tone squeezing out from the diaphragm. They drag themselves across the stage in terrifying growls, roaring - this is the voice of art directed at its audience, a gut wrenching scream - but it is not immediate. On the contrary, it is indirect - it is not only amplified by the speakers, it is also processed electronically, as this is not only about the voice of art, but also about its power - how it enables the sublime, giving things new form, creating life through metamorphosis.
Waterfalls | Nina Traub at the Jerusalem International Dance Week (10.12.2019)
Full article in DANZA&DANZA International
© 2019 Noa Segev