Itzik Galili's Man of The Hour, which one critic has cited it as “an emotional journey filled with extremes”, is a fast-moving and dramatically lit piece for eight male dancers and two female operatic sopranos – here from the Israeli opera. Lasting just under an hour, it's danced without interruption.

The performance in Amsterdam began with a thunderclap, a raking light falling from above onto the single singer centre stage. As she sang the final strains of Henry Purcell’s tragic aria “Dido’s Lament”, the woman struck the same erect and formal posture to that we know from the Columbia Pictures icon. But here, she was to make a plea to us: “May my wrongs create no trouble in thy breast; Remember me, but ah! Forget my fate.” This, while the small company collected around her, as if to forebode the worst.

© Zwecker
© Zwecker

What ensued over the next four or five minutes, namely, was little more than an emotional tirade. Eight very angry male dancers stood centre stage, their arms thrashing and gyrating to a point just short of violence, their faces grimacing, chests being walloped, unintelligible syllables, salutes and obscene gestures thrown out directly to the audience. And each masochistic exasperation was its own little scene, each confronting an immobile  – if unassuming – public that lacked any chance either to react or disavow the vulgarity. If the overlying reference – as some critics have cited – was to a troubled political situation (in the state of Israel?) the warlike drama was well taken.

In the absence of a traditional set, highly dramatic spot-lighting (Yaron Abulafia) was used as liberally as it was effectively throughout. According to the choreographer, the lighting’s magic can "define personalities, and distinguish coldness and warmthon stage. That may be so, but as the thematically dark ballet progressed into its various constellations of figures, each figure gyrating in shiny black ragged dress, the black-on-black made for a fairly grim, if not greasy, stage impression. That being the case, what Galili calls “the poetry” of the chiselled lighting design was very welcome.

In all five consecutive musical episodes, the dancing itself was virile and muscular, a true test of physical limits. The audience was predominantly male, and the mastery of such physical challenge seemed to carry tremendous appeal; so, too, did the intimacies of the fourth episode, which revolved solely around homosexual crisis and love.  While the movements there broke through the usual barriers of distance to intimate body parts – bringing face to crotch, for example – they also gave room to an honest urgency. The principal dancers’ audible heavy breathing made sense, too, as audible confirmation. Most impressive, though, was the very last pose: the one dancer lying draped − and seemingly unconscious − in the cradle of the other’s powerful arms. With that, Galili set as fine an image as those of William Blake to illustrate how  “… Man was made for Joy and Woe”. My only objection to this poignant segment of the ballet, though, was the choice of score: to use “Moonlight”− the most familiar of all the Beethoven sonatas − was to neglect all the power that could have been tapped in music less entombed in association. Simply pulling up the old favourite seemed painfully unstudied. 

© Zwecker
© Zwecker

Whether forced or forceful, the dancers’ consistently challenging movements allowed for little, if any, “down time”. Used like percussion instruments, their bodies − even in the quieter solo and duet configurations − were intermingled with the frenzied pulse of the larger group. Once, for example, a handful pitted itself smack centre above the pit and entwined the second female singer in the moving tendrils of arms and legs.

Admittedly, the contrast between bodily masculine strength and the delicate counterpoints of Purcell and Monteverdi's music mirror the overriding theme: aggression in whose midst people go hunting for the pleasures of love and beauty. But for all its athletic panache and virile tenacity, the 5-part “Man of the Hour” gave us lots of tiresome repetition, too. I’d have liked a chance to catch my breath along the way. And while variations of undulating torsos and human pinwheels were sustained at high speed throughout, I found little in the choreography that was truly groundbreaking.  

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