Bodyland by Oded Graf & Yossi Berg
A man awakens within himself like a child in awe and moves on to do wondrous things in his reality rediscovered. What at first appears to be total experience becomes a game when imbued with the life of others, blood and soil. As this wonder externalizes and the man wakes up with the power of reality in his hands, then he molds wondrous things.
Yossi Berg & Oded Graf are two among five men who perform Bodyland. Within this all-male contemporary performance art work, there is dance, humor, lyricism and theater. I am glad that White Bird takes some risks, curating to the very edge of “dance” at venues like Lincoln Hall. And for PSU who provided the stage during finals week, when a great deal of student performances are taking place there.
Bodyland is also an international collaboration of technicians and designers. One especially notable artist involved is Sille Dons Heltoft, the costume and set designer. A truly surreal environment serves the almost maniacal dramaturgy created by Carmen Mehnert. Actually, these contributions are pretty stark. The minimalism accentuates every artist’s contribution. Often, without subtle lighting changes or purely harmonic sounds working together for an eerie affect, the rest of it would seem out of place. Here’s how it plays out.
Man standing alone on stage becomes aware of his body and begins naming parts, the audience in chuckles because he makes certain schoolyard associations. Then his existential dilemma spills out in to explorative movement. It feels like the performance truly starts with a jump rope and some good electronic pop music, and then all five men join him, one at a time. Impressively, they do not skip a hop and successfully become percussion instruments.
Some metallic inflated tube extends across the stage and just hangs there. It seems to be breathing. The men tell you about their countries and cities: Tel Aviv, Israel is the home of our choreographers, while Paris, France, Copenhagen, Denmark, and Berlin, Germany make up the remaining three. They relate to their own bodies geographically, pointing out where this and that is on their meat-map. At some point, four of them inflate balloons and fix them to someone’s fingers and toes. He goes about hiding behind these balloons while a pair of metallic inflatable hands dance around him.
What happens next could be a spoiler, because imagery tells the story here. If there is a narrative, it is about discovery. The group is moving, dancing, and I think frequently improvising good portions of it, building upon themes introduced from one piece to the next. Rigorous, high-energy choreography ties the whole 60-minute performance together. As a whole, it is dream-like and strange. There is fanfare too. Some pop music, some EDM, a lot of virtuosic dance to chew on. It also comes off as pretty casual, certainly sweetened with humor throughout, so the kind of dream states that might inhibit an audience from engaging, rendering them asleep, are somehow maintained at the conscious level by what I can only describe as an implicit creative reality.
The geopolitical implications are pretty tongue and cheek. Even when talking about the Palestinian territories, his association was appropriate and description honest without being provocative. But as the ideas behind various themes stitched throughout toss and turn on stage and in my own head, it hardly mattered what the message was, so much as the fact that it connected my conscious awareness to blood and soil.
Bodyland is presented by White Bird Dance and runs two more nights, Friday December 12th and Saturday the 13th at 8pm, at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall.