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Flash Review 1, 5-13: Claustrophobia
Monitoring the "Hall" with Yasmeen Godder

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2003 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- Five lonely strangers find themselves in a dingy dance hall after a nameless war in Yasmeen Godder's "Hall." The windowless room has a few mirrors on its walls, a linoleum floor, a modernistic chandelier above, and of course a mirror ball that spins languorously at the start and end of the piece. In this stark setting the refugees try desperately to relive past joys and bond new emotional ties.

Godder, a graduate of NYU/Tisch School of the Arts, has been working in Israel and America for the past few years. Since its creation in 2001, "Hall" has been performed regularly in Tel Aviv and toured Poland and Hungary. "Hall" made its U.S. debut at the Kitchen, May 7-10, and will also be seen at the Spoleto Festival, USA, later this summer.

Godder and the rest of her dance crew: three women, one man, are fierce movers, and the characters they draw have distinct, disturbing psyches. Shaven-headed Shahar Brown wears trousers and projects male energy. She could be a lesbian character, or a tomboy -- or just a woman playing a man. Godder leaves the answer to our speculation. Brown tussles with Yaniv Cohen, whose long black wig gives him an inordinately low brow. His character is a sleazy peacock.

Later Brown duets with Kama Kolton, also bald, but small and fragile, wearing high heels, which she wears on her feet or on her head or covering her breasts like a bra. During their dance in a corner of the room that supports them, Brown appropriates the high heels and mimics Kolton's previous actions with them, trying to gain -- or mock -- her femininity.

Kolton drapes Cohen's hair over her baldness and strokes it lovingly as if it were her own. Cohen foxtrots and tangos with Iris Erez, all the while checking himself out in the mirrors on the walls and a compact mirror Erez carries in her mouth. In a pretty green dress with hair brushed into a bun, Erez is the most outwardly "normal" of the five. Cohen on the other hand is a constellation of tics. He sputters like a temperamental automobile, lurches around with beautifully modulated awkwardness, like a drunken gazelle, doing an odd secret semaphore with his hands.

Even in its silly and indulgent moments, of which there are some, the piece works because of the feisty confidence of Godder and her performers. They dance fearlessly, both physically and emotionally. Godder's opening solo is a volatile essay. She clamps her arms around an invisible obstacle and pokes it furiously with her hands, runs a victory lap like a triumphant athlete, biceps flexed, halts abruptly and gazes in our direction with a quizzical half smile but is seeing the fourth wall of the hall. An Arabic song, a theme song for the work, by Israeli recording artist Dikla accompanies her.

Godder exits the hall and returns wearing a spray of red roses tied to her chest with red ribbons. Re'ut Ben-Ze'ev in clear plastic mules and a cocktail dress joins her to sing Dikla's song live. She strides about the space: a vivid presence with a lusty, rich soprano voice. When she's done, she rushes out just as Godder offers her the flowers in vain.

The form of Godder's work is reminiscent of Pina Bausch's oeuvre, and though more modest in scale -- and certainly in length -- it has surprising, disturbing emotional power. Artistic consultant Itzik Giuli has helped to shape a strong scenario. Jacky Shemesh furnishes a subtly modulated light design. The sound score is a collage of selections by Robert Kaplowitz, Karni Postal, and Ran Slavin.

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