Come Jump With Me: An Artistic Achievement
Yossi Berg and Oded Graf’s New Piece is a sharp and Jarring Political Challenge
A Dialogue with Place
Just before the final curtain-call on the government-sponsored Curtain Up Festival and its ideological expectations, and during the break preceding the International Exposure Festival, a performance that dares strike the gut has arrived. Some would argue that it also strikes members of the audience (who have been assembled so close to the stage that they can almost touch the dancers) in the back. They are taken prisoner by the two dancers, who, without mercy (to each other as well as to the viewers) tell the tale of the country of which they have no other. Nor do we, members of the jolted audience.
Usually one needs to interpret the intentions of the artist, and this is especially so with dance, when the answer is dependent upon one’s ability to decipher the enigma of movement. However, this time the choreographic duo Yossi Berg – Oded Graf have decided to jump into the deepest end of politics, and, as the name of the piece indicates, they invite us to join them.
Moreover, Berg and Graf declared at the outset that this work will be political, their “most outspoken and most personal.” The duo have become the pride of the art of Israeli dance abroad and receive support (for this piece as well) from the Ministry of Culture and Sport. Considering today’s political climate, they have undoubtedly taken a risk by presenting what they have described as “a dialogue with the place they live – Israel – and with the identity crisis in which they find themselves.”
I am including quotes taken directly from the duo, and will continue to do so, because it is rare to find choreographers who openly declare their motivation and purpose, and their intention to take the audience “…on an emotional rollercoaster – from moments that are ecstatic and poetic, to moments examining the relevancy and significance of creating art in Israel… in today’s urgent political reality, while challenging the medium’s power and strength.”
A Barrage of Rocks and Missiles
Indeed, from the very first moment their train leaves the station on the Via Dolorosa. The performance, a duet featuring Berg and the dancer Olivia Court Mesa, opens with Berg, an Israeli who has returned to the country after a long absence, wondering out loud “Is this the Holy Land?” He continually repeats the question, each time with a different intonation – under pressure, with worry, irritation, anger and pain. On the other hand, she has come here to dance and, as we soon discover, falls in love and converts to Judaism.
In fine-looking and cool costumes, especially designed by Adam Calderon, they begin to jump rope, the whoosh of which provides a sound track that precedes the one composed by Berg, Graf and Yoav Brill. The rope-jumping continues within a space marked by masking tape and resembling a multi-limbed star – a kind of Star of David that attempts to expand its corners. The stage design, by Zohar Shoef, is accompanied by circles of light designed by Yoav Barel and with sound by Oren Cohen.
Almost throughout the performance the dancers do not stop speaking, and what they have to say is very personal – so personal, in fact, that it is impossible not to identify with what is said. As one who did not serve in the military, Berg plays with fire when he counts the number times he played a soldier in dance performances. A waltz is cut short; one dance session includes a barrage of rocks; fists and missiles are lobbed at the dancers over and over again, knocking them down, and us, along with them.
An especially colorful marking denotes the sky and the sea. A paddle awaits them, following failed attempts to escape. After coming up against the marked borders, they break through and, with their last remaining strength, they rip the borders up and seek a new horizon — perhaps a new hope, perhaps only a refuge, or perhaps the abyss into which they invite us to join them.
Come Jump With Me is a daring and very personal work – for the choreographers, dancers and artists who worked on the production, as well as for the audience. It is an artistic achievement and perhaps Yossi Berg and Oded Graf’s most important one. Only by experiencing such a performance can one understand the role of art in these difficult days.