October 20, 2018

‘House’ showcases the art of futuristic Israeli dance

Longtime Israeli collaborators Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar first met when Behar was throwing legendary underground raves in Tel Aviv, and Eyal was a performer with Batsheva Dance Company. She went to the parties to let loose and dance.

“At one point, we just fell in love,” Behar recalled over the phone from Tel Aviv. “She told me that she’d like me to see a rehearsal. I’d never seen a rehearsal of a dance performance before in my life. I came to the studio, and, you can imagine, I was shocked and amazed by what I saw. It was a piece she’d created for Batsheva. I told her what I think; she asked for my opinions, we talked about it. She said it’d be nice if I came the day after. And that’s it. From this moment we started working together.”

“It’s a nice story, no?” he added with a laugh.

Eyal, 43, and Behar, 37, founded L-E-V in 2013. The company’s name spells out the Hebrew word for “heart.” Their choreography is more emotional than narrative — there is no story to tell, only feelings to express. L-E-V’s Los Angeles debut will be a performance of their new show, “House,” which runs Nov. 20-23 at REDCAT. It’s a sensual, experimental fusion of dance, light and music. 

The work’s title could be a reference to the style of techno music that Behar played at his parties, or to the home they’ve created through their dance company, or to their own family. They have two children, ages 6 and 13. Eyal, however, dismissed all of those interpretations. “We have deadlines, and we have to give names,” she said by phone from Ottawa.

“These names for pieces, it’s a bit like giving names for kids,” Behar said. “The piece is so emotional and comes from such a deep place, it’s really like giving birth. And the funny thing about giving a name to a kid, somehow the name fits him later on. It’s really a mysterious fact, but it’s a fact.”

“House” appears as if it would be just as at home in a Hollywood nightclub as in a theater. The movements are fluid yet precise, the dancers are incredibly — almost inhumanly — flexible, and the choreography manages to be both sensual and robotic, the performers pushing against each other, animalistically or synchronously, in large packs.

The dancers wear skin-tight, flesh-colored costumes that leave little to the imagination. All of L-E-V’s performances have used equally minimal outfits. 

“The decision of the nude is something that connects to the place that you want to see. And you connect to the dance because of the inside, and not the color of the shirt or the pants,” Eyal said. “I love to see the body of the dancers.”

The show changes from one performance to another. It began as 40 minutes long and has now been extended to an hour. The movements are choreographed but leave the dancers some freedom to play within those boundaries.

Even the music changes slightly. Ori Lichtik, a DJ and childhood friend of Behar’s (Lichtik said they met when they were 2 years old; Behar insisted it was at 1), has been performing with Eyal and Behar since 2006. The dancers rely on his musical cues to stay in sync, but the work still allows him some room for improvisation.

“I’m not really doing anything that touches the timeline and the flow of the work, but I do color it and put some effects and dynamics that are a bit different every time,” Lichtik said over the phone from Vancouver.

The music is a mix of electronic, tribal field recordings and Stravinsky. It’s a unique form of collaboration, with Lichtik working with the dancers from the inception of a piece until the end.

“I’m in the studio with my equipment, and I just start shooting out ideas and tunes and samples and stuff I’m working on, and they can bring the stuff that they want to get inspiration from, and I will mix it in,” Lichtik said. “We play a lot at the studio, and record everything, and then during the process we just pick up what we like. Much of the process is just cleaning it out and shaping the piece.”

Eyal danced with the Batsheva Dance Company from 1990 until 2008 and began choreographing during that time. She also served as the associate artistic director of Batsheva from 2003 to 2004, and as house choreographer from 2005 to 2012. She brings much of Batsheva’s distinctive style — which she helped develop — with her to L-E-V.

“It was something that came because it had to come,” she said of her decision to leave Batsheva. “It’s just growing up from an amazing place to a different place. But all my love and what I learned is from Batsheva. It’s like a continuation for me.”

Batsheva’s trademark style stems from a dance technique called Gaga, developed by Ohad Naharin, artistic director of the company since 1990. It encourages creative exploration by tapping into a dancer’s childhood ignorance of the body’s limitations. Batsheva dancers cover the dance studio’s mirrors during practice to encourage the ensemble’s imagination.

“I adore Gaga,” Eyal said. “I think it’s one of the most amazing tools that dancers can have, and people can have. We use it every day with our company. This is our warm-up and our classes, and I will always believe in it. It’s something that cleans you from the inside. It brings the potential of dancers to a different level. It gives you freedom to be yourself.”

L-E-V also uses no stage design or props. “It’s very minimalistic. There’s the movement and the music and the lights and the spirit of the piece,” Eyal said. “It’s about the clean feeling, without extra.”

And although the company is based in Tel Aviv, Behar downplayed the effect of their Israeli roots on the creative process. 

“We don’t think about it at all, if it’s Israeli or not. A lot of our dancers are not Israelis, and the dancers are a huge inspiration for the creation. And we travel a lot,” he said. “It is Israeli, but it’s also everything else that influenced us.”

Still, Behar said, he’s happy to offer audiences a different association with Israel than what is often presented in the news. 

“It’s not only about the negative or positive, it’s also just to have a different perspective,” he said. “For people who are for Israel or against Israel, it’s always one thing — it’s about the war. Especially for us, we don’t create in a political way. We just create.”

 L-E-V performs “House” Nov. 20 at 8:30 p.m. Through Nov. 23. Tickets are $25-30 (general), $20-25 (REDCAT members, students) $12-$15 (CalArts students). REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., Los Angeles. (213) 237-2800. redcat.org.