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The Perpetual Motion of Longing

Elongated bodies meticulously keep time stepping on demi-pointe to the hard driving techno-beat. They crisscross the stage in various groupings from different directions with their prissy steps sporting opaque nylon knee socks, bare limbs, and nude colored leotards. The costumes by Rebecca Hytting amplify the picture of constricting uniformity; at the same time, they reveal the individual body shapes and builds of the seventeen highly trained dancers of tanzmainz. Trapped in a throbbing playlist and choreography of constrained energy, these bodies look like humans on a conveyor belt—intermittently exposing micro-signs of desperateness for escape. And occasionally some do escape—that’s when it gets interesting. Such is the set-up for Sharon Eyal’s “Soul Chain” created for and performed by tanzmainz, the contemporary dance company of the Staatstheater Mainz in Germany.

Performance

tanzmainz: “Soul Chain” by Sharon Eyal

Place

The Joyce Theater, New York, NY, January 24, 2023

Words

Karen Greenspan

Tanzmainz in “Soul Chain” by Sharon Eyal. Photograph by Andreas Etter

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Sharon Eyal, a former dancer, associate artistic director, and house choreographer for the Batsheva Dance Company, has created numerous works for dance companies around the world as well as for her own company L-E-V (meaning “heart” in Hebrew). She works in collaboration with her husband and professional partner Gai Behar, a producer and designer of live music events and techno raves. Collaborating with them on music is DJ and musician Ori Lichtik, one of the originators of Israel’s techno party scene.

Cornelius Mickel, Maasa Sakano and tanzmainz ensemble in “Soul Chain” by Sharon Eyal. Photograph by Andreas Etter

“Soul Chain,” like several of Eyal’s previous works derives from the great loneliness that lies within us and drives our primal yearning for love. It’s not pretty. In fact, it displays our interior vulnerabilities and our deluded responses to these insecurities and needs. The unrelenting robotic stepping is overlaid with gestures of self-protective conformity—saluting, a foreshortened arm swing, hands covering the chest, hands glued to the hips, hand forming a heart-shape over the midriff—all with a subtle oppositional épaulement that projects a community of tightly wound, ego-driven creatures.

They form a line and parade about the stage. Breaks in the uprightness appear as torsos hinge backward in a kind of prideful strutting. Watching their profiles, one sees the buckling or caving in of the torsos of several dancers. Others scratch their bellies or clutch at their throats. These gestures of misery lead to sections of animalistic outburst as when an individual breaks away to twitch and writhe. For example, dancer Nora Monsecour sustains a notable, improvised, lengthy solo of twitches and jerky fits of movement with amazing grace. At other times the entire group becomes a heaving, humping circular mass of bodies squatting and jumping in ritualistic synchrony. But always, there are one or two bodies maintaining an upstretched arm in contrast to the group’s uniform arm movements—perhaps signaling a desire to reach free or transmit outward to another individual seeking deeper connection.

Bojana Mitrovic, Madeline Harms, Daria Hlinkina and tanzmainz ensemble in “Soul Chain” by Sharon Eyal. Photograph by Andreas Etter

Several of the men burst forth with running leaps muscularly moving both arms in wide, encompassing circles. They encircle the group exerting attention-demanding energy. At another point, several women fearlessly catapult themselves through the air relying on the group’s upstretched arms to catch them. These moments of unbounded movement provide short-lived, liberating respite.

Lichtik’s techno score holds the dance in a tight grip deviating only slightly with a few bars of tango and a simple heartbeat. During the post-performance “curtain chat,” tanzmainz Director Honne Dohrmann described how the music was created simultaneously with the choreography—Lichtik attending rehearsals with three turntables and working long hours to assimilate Eyal’s explicit requests.

Tanzmainz in “Soul Chain” by Sharon Eyal. Photograph by Andreas Etter

Techno party culture informs the choreography in more ways than the music. Even though Alon Cohen’s evocative lighting does not use strobe, the effect is achieved as dancers perform several solos and duets with a strobe-like, jagged, quality. Towards the end, a starburst of white balls of light is projected onto the black stage floor. The dancers, barely moving, pulse together en masse save for one central dancer who continually slides his head side to side. The pool of light shrinks as the group of dancers condenses more tightly together like the slow collapse of a dying star…until the curtain closes.

During the “curtain chat,” tanzmainz dancers Federico Longo and Nora Monsecour spoke of how the piece was about group connection. The group connection may well be essential to performing the piece, but from this viewer’s perspective, it appeared that the group these beings inhabit in the dance is actually a prison.

Karen Greenspan


Karen Greenspan is a New York City-based dance journalist and frequent contributor to Natural History Magazine, Dance Tabs, Ballet Review, and Tricycle among other publications. She is also the author of Footfalls from the Land of Happiness: A Journey into the Dances of Bhutan, published in 2019.

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