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LeeSaar’s February

It’s been a few years since LeeSaar, a small company begun by Lee Sher and Saar Harari of Israel that settled here, first made a splash in New York; they received a Guggenheim Fellowship this year, among several laurels. Their work hasn’t lost much of the uniqueness and power that might have been due to its novelty, as seen in a double bill (called February) at La Mama. One half is a short play written and performed by Sher, who is an engaging presence. The other half is a dance, One Day, choreographed by Sher and Harari (they also designed the sound and costumes) for Jye-Hwei Lin and Hsin-Yi Hsiang.

One of the most powerful aspects of past works by LeeSaar has been its intimacy. No doubt this was in part due to the confines of the small theaters I’ve seen them in (such as PS 122’s two spaces), where you could hear them breathing and practically feel the warmth from their bodies. But I wondered how it would translate to the cavern of La Mama’s Annex. With Joe Levasseur’s lighting, the choreography did just fine, often taking place in one zone or another, as defined by light and darkness. Levasseur showed a resourceful invention by placing a strip of aluminum foil where footlights would be in a larger house, and bouncing light off it to ligth the dancers from below.

It’s also interesting to see this quite personal style of choreography transferred to other dancers without the specific background and training of the two choreographers, who went through Israel’s military training. It doesn’t suffer; in fact, its volatility and frenetic dynamics soften into a solid vocabulary less linked to personal emotion. The deep plies remain, as do the darting kicks and bouts of stillness.

LeeSaarThe two dancers differ in many ways – in stature, quality of movement, pathos. Lin is willowy and open, while Hsiang is more compact and emotionally ambiguous. When they dance together, their respective nuances emerge. And while the piece is under a half-hour, it seems just the right length to avoid too much repetition with a vocabulary that is still in development.

Sher’s short play, Little island, offered a good, if odd, counterweight to the dance. She portrayed an old world, but young, woman named Martha Who, with an unidentifiable European-like accent. A call to the police, in the wake of several previously made, finally yields a visit for her urgent complaint: it’s too quiet. Anomie, absurdity, and abject loneliness all fall around her as thick and soft as the snow blanketing the play’s exterior.

Presumably, Sher’s theatrical experience contributes to the sense of drama inherent in the dance section. Both choreographers performed in past dance works to great effect. Harari in particular personified their coiled, combustible style. While their presence is missed in the dance, it is also nice to see such idiosyncratic movement interpreted with such positive results.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.
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