An astonishing combination of works was shown on Saturday evening at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells Theatre – Ours by Idan Sharabi & Dancers, followed by Give Me A Reason To Live by Clare Cunningham; two pieces dealing in entirely different ways with notions of ownership and strength, and ideas about what bodies can and cannot physically do.
Idan Sharabi, a young Israeli choreographer, founded his company Idan Sharabi & Dancers in 2012. With performer Dor Mamalia, he has created a piece of work in which he choreographs notions of home and belonging.
It begins with a soundscape, a man churning out words after words, as if caught in an inescapable train of thought – it is a meandering monologue in which he philosophizes on love, drugs, and truth. Dor Mamalia and Idan Sharabi move about joyously to this monologue, conversing with each other through movement, using pirouettes, adventurous jumps and splits, flying across the stage in sync, or out of sync, all this unpretentiously, as if at home in their living room. They are comical and light-hearted, playing with the pathos of traditional ballet movements and verging on camp eroticism as they show off in front of each other, rolling on the floor, limbs widespread using classic contemporary dance vocabulary. It is an entertaining mixture of a kind of showdance and slapstick, set to music by Joni Mitchell. The music is interlaced with recordings of interviews made by Sharabi, in which he asks people questions about what ‘home’ means to them. Sharabi and Mamalia reenact, recreate in their movements the home talked about in the recording – the most memorable instance being when they are on all fours, barking like a dog mentioned in the interview. It’s as if they are trying to find the truth of the different ideas of ‘home’ by acting them out, like two brothers in their own house, completely ‘at home’ with one another. They invite the audience into their search of familiarity by grimacing at the audience or seeking eye contact to communicate a joke.
Then follows a sequence of standing across from each other, approaching each other in quiet conversation, until the dancers align, in one long, fluid movement, first their heads, then nose, mouth, pelvis, outstretched arms – and then continue to move together.
“Will you take me as I am?” – The last few, intimate minutes of the performance are set to Joni Mitchell’s California, and in the feeling the two dancers evoke, the answer is, yes, they can be themselves here, they are at home. They created a capsule of familiarity together, and generously invited the audience to share it. To witness this exploration of what it means to be at home with one another, showing support and being silly, was touching as much as it was thought-provoking.
A soft clicking sound introduces the second duet of the night – before the official start of the performance, Clare Cunningham crosses the stage from left to right in darkness, using her crutches, which she will rely on for the rest of the performance as she does in her everyday life. Clare Cunningham creates solo or ensemble, multi-disciplinary performances, using her own specific physicality and rejecting traditional dance vocabularies; her work has made her one of the most renowned disabled artists in the UK.
Inspired by Hieronymous Bosch’s medieval depictions of beggars, cripples, and sinners, Cunningham has created a compelling exploration of her body, its limitations and its complex relationship to the crutches in Give Me A Reason To Live.
Over the course of Cunningham’s choreography the crutches function as support, as shackles, and as instruments of force – she rests on them as often as she rejects them. They give her freedom to lift herself up and hold herself above ground to the floating voices of the exalted church choir, heard singing to grand music as one would hear in a Catholic mass. The crutches let her hang limp upon them while drooping her head, dropping her limbs towards the floor. At some times Cunningham cradles the crutches, holding them close while curled up upon the floor – other times, she creates as much distance as possible, holding or swinging them far away from her. The tension between the crutches as shackles and, simultaneously, support, show them as much an alien object on her body as a familiar extension of it. The choreography is dominated by slowness, stillness and focus, with some movements being repeated until they seem to become unbearable.
When Cunningham finally turns around to face the audience, she becomes even more vulnerable as she removes her shirt, her trousers, and the padding on her knees, and stands upright, her crutches next to her on the floor. As the lights go up on the audience, we share her moment of exposure – the pressure to hold her stare is overwhelming, and the rawness of her test of physical strength becomes more overpowering as the minutes pass. Cunningham shivers, all ragged breathing and rapid shaking, until she eventually reclaims her crutches’ support. The performance ends with Cunningham singing J.S. Bach’s BWV 4 Cantata: Christ lag in Todesbanden, piercing the air with her soaring voice, while climbing upon her crutches, balancing above ground in the spotlight.
The after show conversation among audience members revealed the strength of both pieces in juxtaposition – it proved rewarding to interpret them in contrast to each other, and in their shared ambitions.
While Idan Sharabi and Dor Mamalia showed lightheartedness and moved with amazing fluidity, Clare Cunningham was often still, showing the impact of gravity on her body. Both pieces allowed the audience to witness privacy, and be invited into it. Both pieces dealt with notions of ownership – in Ours, it was the ownership of space as a home, and in Clare Cunningham’s piece, she takes on ownership of her disability. Both pieces showed versions of support – supporting one another, as in Ours, or the support of the crutches for the dancer in Give Me A Reason To Live. Seeing these pieces of work together made the audience viscerally feel the different experiences people have in their respective bodies – first by feeling uplifted by the pace and energy of Ours, and then by experiencing discomfort, tension and pity in watching the isolated struggle in Give Me A Reason To Live.
Contrasting virtuosity and ‘ability’ with what is traditionally viewed as ‘the other’ body served as an important reminder of the fact that there are very different kinds of strengths we know and need to exert as human beings.