Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Straight from the Heart: L-E-V

L-E-V Dance Company performing Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart. (Photo: Stefan Dotter for Dior)

Even though Valentine’s Day had come and gone by the time Israel’s L-E-V contemporary dance company appeared at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre at the beginning of March, hearts were everywhere, starting with the company’s name, the Hebrew word for heart. Even the techno beat dance it presented – Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart – had the word in the title. Then there were the tattoo-like costumes worn by the six turbo-charged dancers. Designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri, creative director of Christian Dior Couture, the stockinged-feet unitards were emblazoned with a bleeding heart on the left side of side of the chest. Spot a pattern? 

To say that L-E-V co-artistic directors Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar are heart-obsessed would be an understatement. She’s a former star dancer with Israel’s acclaimed Batsheva Dance Company, he a one- time Tel Aviv party planner who curated multidisciplinary events in nightclubs. They’ve been working together since 2013, most notably on a series of pulsating pieces having to do with – you guessed it – the twists and turns of the human heart.

Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart is the third and final instalment of a trilogy that has solidified L.E.V’s international reputation as an energized collective whose works eviscerate and visualize raw emotion. L-E-V debuted the 55-minute nonstop dance work in Germany in 2019 and were set to bring it to Canada the following year until the pandemic postponed their appearance at Harbourfront’s ongoing Torque program of international contemporary dance. So anticipation ran high and at first glance L-E-V appeared to be worth the wait.

A sinewy and sensuous tape loop of a dance, The Brutal Journey of the Heart is propelled by a hybrid movement vocabulary made up of elements of ballet, modern dance, nightclub vernaculars like voguing and Gaga, a popular constant motion-dance language which originated in Israel and is now practiced around the world. The dancers undulate and ripple like reeds in the wind. They arch their backs, roll their hips, sickle their arms, grab and cover their mouths and throats as they move synchronistically to an electronic beat. The perpetual motion of the ensemble simulates the relentless drive of a beating heart, while breakout solo performances represent moments of personal heartbreak, the love lost.

Longtime company collaborator Ori Lichtik’s polyrhythmic score, a commixture of African and Latin rhythms, structures the energy surges. Alon Cohen’s dusky lighting design invokes the twilit atmosphere of an underground club where dance is a communal ritual, a shared experience, a collective heart beating as one.

The movement is a continuum of interlinking rhythms, and it mesmerizes. But then it just keeps on going, without going anywhere. It’s pure sensation, a heart providing no emotional engagement, which ends up being disappointing.

But there is a cool vibe, a leftover, no doubt, from Behar’s clubbing days, and it lent the piece an aura of fashionability, a sense that it is the latest thing. Shorn of tradition, as well as expectations of how a full-length, non-narrative dance should comport itself these days, The Brutal Journey of the Heart puts style ahead of substance, making it a perfect piece for the Instagram era. The clothes are designer, the bodies lean and languorous, the look fierce, to use a word of the day.

The dancers seduce but with no strings attached. But that’s the dance floor for you, a space where people dance together but don’t always engage with one another. It’s a come-on really, and ultimately it’s got nothing to do with heart. It’s just a visceral thrill.

Deirdre Kelly is a Toronto-based journalist, author and internationally recognized dance critic and style writer on staff at The Globe and Mail newspaper from 1985 to 2017. She writes for Dance Magazine in New York, the Dance Gazette in London, and NUVO in Vancouver, and is a contributor to the International Dictionary of Ballet and AWOL: Tales for Travel-Inspired Minds. The best-selling author of Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, she is a two-time recipient (2020 and 2014) of Canada’s Nathan Cohen Prize for outstanding critical writing. In 2017, she joined York University as Editor of the award-winning The York University Magazine where she is also the publication’s principal writer.


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