For the occasion of LeeSaar The Company’s debut at the Joyce Theatre this weekend, the troupe is presenting the New York premiere of Grass and Jackals. The company – as well as this evening’s choreography – is the brainchild of Israel-born, New York-based Lee Sher and Saar Harari. This powerhouse duo have produced consistently solid work over the past decade, so it comes as no surprise that Grass and Jackals is every bit as visceral, compelling, and thought-provoking as their preceding oeuvre.

Grass and Jackals © Christopher Duggan
Grass and Jackals
© Christopher Duggan

Performed by an all-female company of seven dancers, clad in black catsuits and with eyebrows thickly drawn in strokes of black paint, the work establishes a menacingly mysterious atmosphere from its opening moments. Although identical costumes naturally have a leveling effect, the character portrayed by Jye-Hwei Lin emerges as the narrative anchor of the piece. Appearing as nearly levitating off the stage floor, Lin spends much of the extended first scene of the piece on the floor, slowly traversing the stage apron, not making any eye contact with other dancers, with her gaze searching something in the distance, while the remaining ensemble create a field of undulating figures upstage. In all its simplicity, this image delineates thematic elements that are spun throughout the piece: nostalgia, limbo, multiplicity of perspectives, and passage of time.

The work is built on dynamic alternations – ensemble sections inevitably eclipse sections of Lin’s solo scenes on the stage; sustained, narrative scenes are followed by playful moments – sonically as well, as the cinematically atmospheric score is occasionally interrupted by “pop” moments. I have the impression that the world onstage is unfolding within a troubled mind, deliriously struggling to resolve its inner conflicts.

LeeSaar's Grass and Jackals © Christopher Duggan
LeeSaar's Grass and Jackals
© Christopher Duggan

And just what might those conflicts be? Again, the powerful dynamic that is set in the work’s opening moments, and deftly threaded throughout the piece, may offer an interpretive key: watching a single persona being splintered into multiple identities – the same mind refracted though several different lenses. It is as if Lin’s character has been thrust in a mirrored cage with her multiple “avatars”, and is struggling to discover her true identity. There is something very primal about these avatars, as their physical impulses embody something of an animalistic quality throughout the piece. Add to that the element of time – on occasion, it appears as if layers of it were packed into a single space, as if the whirlwind of feverish bodies on the stage was indeed just one body captured through a time-lapse recording. The finely mixed soundtrack of the piece supports the sense of being stuck in limbo, as it is often punctuated by evocative details such as the faint sound of a scratchy, broken record, or ghostly, indiscernible voices floating in the background.

Though Grass and Jackals peels off layer upon layer of meaning, it is not ultimately conclusive – just like real life (or every good story, in my book at least). Within this work, I sense a nightmarish quest of discovering one’s true self, a struggle to reconcile the ghosts of the past and find the courage not only to be true to one’s self but also to live in the present without clinging on to one’s memories.

LeeSaar's Grass and Jackals © Christopher Duggan
LeeSaar's Grass and Jackals
© Christopher Duggan
But it’s not that simple, of course…and the work’s closing image exemplifies the point. Lin’s protagonist undergoes a transformation, emerging from the black suit like a shedding snake, emerging wearing a golden skin. It could be a breakthrough, a new future – or perhaps not. As she victoriously treads upon the ground, her black avatars lurk behind, and finally, the entire stage picture becomes obscured by curtains of stringy liquid oozing from the rafters.

Blackout.