Doris Duke Theatre
July 1-4, 2004

Three Duets to Brazilian-Indian Music (1998)
Easy for You to Say (2004)
Lapse (2002)
Choreography by Zvi Gotheiner

Review by Seth Rogovoy

(BECKET, July 2, 2004) – Although choreographer and artistic director Zvi Gotheiner was born and raised in Israel, his company, ZviDance, is international in character and scope, with dancers originating from such far-flung places as Singapore, Taiwan, Austria, Salt Lake City, North Carolina, Indiana, Iowa and San Francisco. More importantly, Gotheiner’s dance palette is equally cosmopolitan. The music used for the dances being staged this weekend in the Doris Duke Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow draw from Russian, Brazilian, Indian, African, European and American sources.

But what comes out is purely ZviDance, a unique style that really is Gotheiner’s personal language. With elements drawn from classical ballet, modern, folk and jazz dance, Gotheiner has created a vivid, muscular approach, brimming with energy – indeed, very much about energy. And with his fascinating corps of dancers of varying shapes, colors and sizes – all united by a devotion to technique and a fierce physicality – he has assembled the tools he needs to execute his vision.

While edgy bordering on experimental, Gotheiner’s dances were always accessible. Perhaps because of his background as a violinist, he favors a close relationship between dance and music, and dancer’s movements always related in some fashion to the rhythms or content of the music. This, of course, is not always the case in modern dance. Therefore those who might shy away from this genre in general for fear that it’s too difficult to comprehend might want to take a chance on ZviDance, with the knowledge that at the very least, you can view the dance as a conversation between the dancers and the music.

But Gotheiner is no literalist, either. The music only gives basic cues and suggestions for the pieces. In a sense, Gotheiner rewrites the music – even or especially in a weighty piece by Shostakovich in “Easy for You to Say” – and reinterprets it and makes it his own. Perhaps the best piece of the night, the dance opened in a flash of dancers grabbing the stage in an arc like birds flying in formation. They quickly settled into parallel diagonals, and in a flurry of movement intersected, re-coupled, line up again, spilled out, and assumed several formations.

At one point, a cluster of dancers formed opposite a formation of dancers who went through motions approximating what one might see in a dance class, while the cluster engaged in misbehavior – the sort of slapstick-like movements and vocalizations that would be prohibited in such a class. There was a hint of comic aggression in this and some of the other dances – it’s clearly part of Gotheiner’s vocabulary – but the aggression was tempered by a frolicsome section where women danced like girls to a particularly folksy violin phrase.

Gotheiner is also fond of still-life tableaux, of which there were several throughout the evening, and which always thrill when they come to life, and in-your-face chorus lines, in which dancers directly confront the audience. “Easy for You to Say” also included several duets in which dancers directly confronted each other; one included incessant questioning along the lines of “Did you say something?”

As much as they speak a company language, Gotheiner’s dancers are not afraid to express their individuality, and a viewer might have been taken with any of several of them. The very tall, strongly-built Ashley Gilbert (at least I think it was Ashley Gilbert – you can’t always be sure who is whom in dance) grabbed my attention in the first dance, so I stuck with her throughout the night and wasn’t disappointed, especially in “Easy,” in which her fixed expression of determination, hinting at suppressed violence, was starkly lit from below. In a company where no one is a star and where everyone could be, Gilbert stood out from the pack, as much for how she upends clichés about what a female dancer should look like as for the unique way she expressed combinations of strength and grace, beauty and athleticism, suppleness and aggression – in a phrase, the will to transcendence through dance.

The opening “Three Duets to Brazilian-Indian Music” was also a rich piece full of delight, a wonderful opener that introduced a viewer to the company and its unique language in bite-size duets that were easy to digest but also full of shock and awe. The piece opened with a male-female duet featuring the impossibly lopsided Ying-Ying Shiau and David Martinez, the latter towering a full two heads or more over the former. Yet the two were fluid and graceful, transferring energy from one to the other as easily as when you lift your own arm. The second duet, featuring the aforementioned Ashley Gilbert and Tarek Halaby, was softer and lazier, with more of an African underpinning in the music but with a similar strategy to the previous duet. Where the first one was full of atomic energy, this one was more gentle and sensual – not overly sexual, but rather reveling in the smoothness of two bodies in motion together. The final duet featuring Todd Allen and Eric Hoisington and danced to a Philip Glass-like bit of African-influenced minimalism, was suggestively shocking as much for the context, following as it did two conventional, male-female pairings, as it was for its emphasis on the mass and muscularity of these monumental dancers.

The dance “Lapse” concluded the evening which shapes up as an early favorite to be one of the most memorable performances of the summer, at Jacob’s Pillow or anywhere.

[This review originally appeared in the Rogovoy Report on July 2, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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