Yesterday I had a chance to view two wonderful contemporary dance performances at The Place in London. The Place is a leading venue for contemporary dance in the UK and it is located nearby Euston Station in London. It offers range of different activities such as dance training, performances in the country’s busiest dance theatre, and initiatives supporting artist’s development in their careers.

After the tasting of a bit of contemporary dance during Touch Wood performance, the audience went to the Theatre for the performance Animal Lost created in 2010 by Yossi Berg and Oded Graf dance company from Israel, which performs around the world. Company’s tours in 2011 include: France (Montpellier), the U.K. (London), the U.S. (New York, Portland, North Carolina), Sweden (Stockholm), Switzerland (Lausanne, Basel, Chur, St. Gallen), Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo), Peru (Lima), Slovenia (Ljubljana), Croatia (Zagreb), Turkey (Ankara), Lithuania (Kaunas), Poland (Warsaw), Canada (Vancouver), Italy (Rome, Bari(.

Animal Lost begins with a strange and powerful poem spelled out to the microphone by a seductive woman who afterwards puts on a horse mask trying to entertain the audience with trivial jokes. She is soon joined by other dancers wearing animal masks who start a pop like, sexual dance to traditional music. The performance unfolds in a very fast pace form this point on- animals undress, get rid of their masks, dress up again and start dancing with duets and trios reflecting animal desires and complicated relationships. Here, when they stop, dancers start to announce their multiple, random identities with a very confessional tone: ‘I am Danish dentist and I make lots of mistakes’, ‘I am British I like tea and cake’ , ‘I am gay’, ‘I am a Venezuelan model’. the rest of the performance is full of astonishing dance technique, pop music mixed with sad longing songs, sadness mixed with happiness, screams with laughter, all joined by masks, guitar, water gun, random slogans and most of all coupled with powerful dance. This mixture is hard to describe, surely has to be seen and experienced.

The performance was followed by short interview with the choreographers conducted by the Director of the Theatre, Eddie Nixon.

Asked about the main theme of the performance, Oded Graf revealed that the preparation for Animal Lost started with the question for the artists ‘How would you define yourselves in just three sentences?’ It turned out that while numerous attempts to do that, artists could not get rid of some social cliches and stereotypes. Therefore, the performance rises questions about social and cultural differences, defining and redefining ourselves, stereotyping and the fact that how we describe ourselves does not necessarily show the whole story. It also tries to show how people put masks while interacting with each other. Yossi Berg explained that performance tried to show that even irrelevant, small things can grow to be significant, they can make you feel happy in the particular place and time, which poses a question of how much happiness particular things bring to us. He also related to the animal theme as the one which is suppose to show how people tend to get into someone else’s skins and eventually become different people, all connected to the recurring question in the performance of finding ourselves.

Another question asked about why these particular animals have been chosen in the performance. Yossi Berg replied that animals were chosen randomly but it was the ones that do not impose particular stereotypical characteristics which allowed exploring bigger range of the emotions in the performance.

Asked about if the performance is a dark work, Yossi Berg replied that the performance shows the blurring line between the opposites, it shows that human feelings are very close to each other and can change really fast, reaching extreme points and revealing inner conflicts. Oded Graf agreed, saying that the performance shows the whole spectrum of feelings, darkness being only one aspect of them, which shows how hard it is to reach the truth about ourselves.

Eddie Nixon also asked about what is mostly important in the theatre for the choreographers. Oded Graf revealed that what fascinates him the most is exploring something new within the bodies and exploring changing relationships between different people. Yossi Berg answered that he likes to explore the conflicts within a person and appreciates the interaction between actors, space and the audience.

Asked about how is it for them to work together, Oded Graf said that choreographers’ cooperation started when they invited each other for their performances to dance, which made them get to know each other in different roles. It turned into fruitful partnership where both choreographers give each other the confidence to create. He added that the dance company works together as a group, exchanging ideas and going together through the creation process.

Eddie Nixon also asked if they are influenced by the Israeli contemporary dance style. Yossi Berg answered that their work surely is influenced, but more by what Israel means to them and by their travels, rather than by Israeli contemporary dance style per se.

For me Animal Lost turned out to be a powerful and provocative performance, which by mixing nonsense and truth challenges the way we look at our identity and sexuality. It made me think about universality of human repression, fantasies and most of all human needs, one of them being longing for love.

Asked about future plans Oded Graf revealed that the company prepares a new work in Switzerland, which is going to reflect different perception about change, inspired by choreogrpaher’s attitude towards change in their country as compared to perception by citizens in Switzerland. If the next performance is going to be as excellent as Animal Lost I would surely recommend seeing it.

– Olga Macz, TIME OUT