Netta Yerushalmy’s Devouring Devouring at La MaMa was the proof that I have needed of late to know that a piece can be interesting and wholly watchable, based solely on the facility and performance quality of the dancers involved. That is not to say that Ms Yerushalmy’s work was boring; on the contrary, I found myself deeply invested from beginning to end. But I think that had more to do with my desire to understand Ms Yerushalmy’s overarching intent – and, of course, my fascination with her beautiful, supple-footed dancers – than with the choreography itself.
Ms Yerushalmy’s four dancers – Joanna Kotze, Stuart Singer, Ofir Yudilevitch, and Toni Melaas – all had a way of fooling me into believing that their limbs were longer than they actually are. I suppose much of this is owed to Ms Yerushalmy’s far-flung and impressively gumby movement. I’d be curious to know what kind of directives Ms Yerushalmy gives during rehearsal: each of the dancers had a mysterious ability to move as if their brains had no idea where their limbs would take them next. There were several moments throughout the piece when I found myself wondering if the dancers could possibly be improvising, only to remind myself that such intricate tableaux, partnerings and miniscule group pauses had to have been carefully choreographed.
I’d also be interested in knowing in what order Ms Yerushalmy choreographed this piece. I honestly had some trouble finding a common thematic element throughout the entire first half. Devouring Devouring is a pretty specific title, and it certainly conjures up a set of images (feasting, consuming, greediness), but nothing really relatable to the title or even motif-y really showed up until the second half. Her dancers certainly know how to eat the space, it is true (Mr Singer in particular managed to traverse the complete downstage left diagonal of La MaMa’s expansive stage in merely a few buffalo jumps and a chassé or two), but the recurring images of artistocracy and repetitive tableaux took longer than I would have liked to develop.
However, once these affectations and posings did appear, I found myself completely immersed. The delicately popped heel and a gentle opening of Ms Melaas’ palm, paired with Mr Singer’s excellent aristocratic face (his comedic timing is impeccable), was enough to make me sit up and take notice. Mr Yudilevitch at first came across as if he were a last-minute addition to the piece – little interaction in the first half, followed by a solo, followed by some group work that involved him – and later commanded the stage with a quiet and even supplicant presence. A repeated image of the Pietà with Mr Yudilevitch was stunning (but quiet, as with all of his movement) but felt out of place. Truly, much of the piece felt out of place, from the Woody Allen comedic monologue played over the movement to Mr Singer’s Queen-of-Hearts occasional costume change. Most of the time, I had to rely on Lenore Doxsee’s subtly defining light cues to let me know when the mood or section of the piece was changing.
But I am most grateful to this piece for introducing me to the beautiful performance of Ms Kotze. This is a woman who will give the big-handed and big-footed of us something to hope for: her unusual ability to combine grace with carelessly hurled limbs and a penetrating gaze completely captured my attention – I had to keep reminding myself to watch the other dancers. But something must be said for every dancer’s dedication to their craft in this piece: all were beautiful, well-trained technicians who – best of all – were unafraid to fling their lithe bodies again and again throughout the space and to the floor. Each danced as if this was the most important piece of their lives, which is always a refreshing and commanding thing to see.
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