I have a personal history with Jasmin Vardimon Dance Company, only in my imagination of course, but a history nonetheless. I was in my first year of dance studies in the UK and I began to hear about this endlessly popular choreographer that every graduate wanted to work with. During the summer of my second year I was in London for a while and I caught a performance of Yesterday at the Peacock Theatre. It was like watching a gripping movie. I was plastered to my seat, back straight, eyes wide open afraid to blink and miss a moment.
To me Vardimon achieves a perfect amalgamation of dance and theatre and whatever she does, from the moves to the monologues, is fierce and fearless. She portrays regular people, in a way of regular people… The dancers look and move like people on stage. The movement is grounded and heavy, but graceful, falling to the floor becomes an act of resisting gravity in slow motion. Simply gorgeous!
The dancers provide a ‘complete’ performance. They act the whole time, and for dancers, they act pretty well. The acting colours their movement. Actually the movement is inseparable from the acting, because how can you move as if you are being blown away by the wind if you aren’t convinced that you are being blown away by the wind? They inhabit the world that they are creating on stage. Never have I seen this union of dance and drama completed so effortlessly. Or at least it looks effortless as a dancer flies through the air trying to catch a piece of paper that is blowing in the wind in his mouth, while portraying a character who wants to inherit the suffering of his grandfather who is a holocaust survivor.
Nobody can sum up the latest piece by Vardimon, than Vardimon did herself in an interview with ‘Inside Dance’ for Sadler’s Wells. “7734 is a personal look at an inherited collective memory of a cruel world, a world in which mankind’s inhumanity is taking a central stage. I read somewhere that a war can never end till the last person who was alive in the war dies naturally, but even then it carries on with his children and grandchildren and so on, and so on, until slowly the memory becomes diluted and the pain softer. That’s something that I think is very much the essence of my investigation in this piece; this inheritance of pain and inheritance of memory. “
So there I was last Thursday evening, five years after my first experience of Vardimon’s work in London, now at the Opera House in Tel Aviv. First of all, it must be noted how much bigger Vardimon’s work is in the UK than in her native Israel. There isn’t a contemporary dancer in the UK that doesn’t know her work. Here her work is well- received, but she simply isn’t that well known, certainly because the company rarely performs here, but also due to the performance venues. One thing that struck me was that the audience at the Opera were quite unlike the crowd that go to see dance regularly at Suzanne Dellal. They are probably mostly members of the Opera that sometimes find themselves shell- shocked by something contemporary (excuse my stereotyping). My impression was reinforced when I heard people comment several times in the interval that “whatever it is, it is not modern dance”. The difficulty the opera- loving audience were having categorizing the work made them resort to putting it into a category of ‘not-ness’. Meanwhile, many among the younger and genuinely interested population decided not to see the show because the tickets were too pricey.
Orchestrating Tasteful Suffering
The work was quite unlike the previous works I’ve seen. Whereas dark comedy is usually a typical trait of Vardimon’s work, this was more personal and heavy. The set was appropriately simpler and there was less interaction with digital arts. There were clear visual references to the holocaust and it was hard to see it in any other light than a commentary by an Israeli on the national memory of the suffering of the Jewish people, especially because such images are so sensitive to the local audience that there was no doubt what meaning they were applying to the piece.
Jasmin is a master of entrances and exits. Like a well-edited film, scenes flow in and out of each other seamlessly, dancers appear and disappear, dance flows into theatre, and everything intertwines on stage like a perfect symphony. Some parts felt a little long and the entire two- hour work may have benefited from being somewhat condensed. Nonetheless, I can only encourage the Israeli audience to celebrate their fantastic cultural export as is called for. It may take a while before Jasmin Vardimon Dance Company are back in the Holy Land to perform, but when they are, make sure you buy a ticket and bring an open mind.