The Doctrine of the Mask and of Acting


A simple question like “How would you define yourself in three sentences?” is the starting point of “Animal Lost”, the new production of Yossi Berg and Oded Graf that was put on for the first time five months ago in Copenhagen with the Dansescenen theatre, met with immediate success, and has now come to Israel for four performances.

Self definition is an essential question for the duo of Israeli dancer-choreographers. Their previous production, “4 Men, Alice, Bach and the Deer”, is the biggest hit of the last year of dance in Israel, and like its predecessors is a sought-after hit for the stages of dance and festivals abroad. So, for example, tomorrow the group will take off for Korea and within only a few hours will appear on stage there, later returning to the West, to Spain. And so the Israeli home and identity are stretched between different stages, hotels, airports, languages and cultures.

The complex response to the seemingly simple question – or the attempt to offer an artistic creative answer to it – was created and formulated by the two in the process of working together with their partners – Carmen Mehnert the dramaturge, Omer Sheizaf, who designed the lighting that alternately narrows and widens its focus, Mona Schmidt, who designed the colorful costumes, and the dancers who appear with them – Julia Giertz from Sweden, Pierre Enaux from France, Siri Wolthoorn and Soren Urop from Denmark.

At the root of the response is the awareness that life teaches people, by will or by force, the doctrine of the mask and of acting. Masks hide identities but do not change them. Acting enables contact, but does not release us from fear and hesitation. And inside, it turns out, the animal remains – every man and his animal is prey. This is the personal, internal essence, whose existence and function they are researching in the new production.

Deep Choreographic Nuances

On stage, they place stereotypes in masks of a white bear, a panda, a penguin, a pig, a hare and a horse, such as can be purchased in stores. Usually for balls and sometimes for purposes of robbery and violence. They act under the cover of the masks – or without them when the animal passion rises to the surface and there is no need for pretense. And for moments, through the familiar brush strokes of their humor, the animals resemble human beings who become addicted to games of power and control.

However, it is not just in appearance, and not just in the physical exposure from time to time, but also in the danced behavior that there is a clear component of baring the identity in wonderful solos. Graf’s in the beginning and Berg’s towards the end, or in duets, soft or clashing, trios of confrontations and internal competition or mutual search, or in texts by the beautiful Julia Giertz, she who opens the production holding the mask of a mare in her hands, with her mouth producing texts that glide into vocal animation, to lines of poetry and then to a moving and painful song.

The personal – and group – response, with music by Rachid Taha from Algeria in the background, begins with identifying the nationalities and moves on to a long series of various strange statements about real or made-up identities, experienced or acquired, enjoyable or painful, sexual, gender, physical or spiritual – and develops into a double journey. On one hand outwards from inside the mask, and on the other hand inwards to the human, non-animal truth, to the essential question of whether it’s at all possible to lose the animal that’s in the person.

“Animal Lost”, with its small steps and its large gestures, with the great energy of the movement, large and small, is a thought provoking work, and for its creators it is an important step in which their choreographic language acquires new, deep nuances, and enables them to expand its boundaries. In the early days of their shared venture, they were a duo, then they were a trio and a quartet and now they are already six. They have a long and promising future.

Full review 

– Zvi Goren, Habama