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L-E-V perform “Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart” by Sharon Eyal. Photograph by Stefan Dottor for Dior

Heart to Heart

L-E-V’s “Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart” leaves all the feeling onstage

Performance
L-E-V: “Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart” by Sharon Eyal
Place
The Joyce Theater, New York, NY, February 22, 2022
Words
Candice Thompson

On Tuesday evening February 22, 2022, Israeli dance ensemble L-E-V brought “Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart” to the dance-obsessed audiences of New York’s the Joyce Theater. Founded by co-artistic directors Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, L-E-V traces a lineage from Batsheva Dance Company, where Eyal was both a dancer and later associate artistic director and house choreographer, and Tel Aviv nightlife, where Behar has been both a party producer and curator. “Chapter 3” held both of these influences in close proximity while also showcasing very talented dancers in Eyal’s ultra-specific, dance language. 

What felt like a series of vignettes—set to a shifting score of popular songs and electronic music created by musician and DJ Ori Lichtik—began with dancer Karen Lurie Pardes center stage, doing a salsa in a tight circle around herself. With hips and shoulders popping up and down, side to side, and heels lifted up high, she shifted her weight forward and backward to the beat. Two more dancers joined her, heels up as they wandered onstage backward and charted their own quarter turns with small syncopated steps. Eventually three more dancers arrived, all six of them dressed in flesh toned unitards by Maria Grazia Chiuri of Christian Dior Couture that looked like they were tattooed. A very red heart jumped out on their chests.

Their hands grasped at their own necks and chins, but despite the rhythm of their legs and this very human gesture, they moved more like creatures. Perhaps this was due to their extreme posture: back arched, ribcage open, head forward, and arms flung back far behind them in a hyperextended position similar to that of a preening bird. When the music shifted to a Blues-style ballad, the dancers explored more grounded positions. They bent deep in wide second positions, their arms stirring the air in front of them. This set up a contrast between high and low that would continue to alternate throughout the work. Though they danced mostly in unison, with the exception of short solos, they seemed to be isolated on their own little islands.

L-E-V perform “Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart” by Sharon Eyal. Photograph by Stefan Dottor for Dior

For the rest of the show, about fifty minutes or so, all six dancers remained onstage and fully present. Their artistry and endurance was engaging and impressive even when the vocabulary had grown overly repetitive. They moved around the stage as one throbbing clump of bodies. At times their movements added a layer of Bob Fosse to their foundation of Gaga technique: they twinkled jazz hands, their backs still arched, heels forever up on releve, and created a cabaret-like atmosphere with their vogueing arms caressing and framing their faces. They pulsed in and out of new formations, most often a semi-circle that expanded and contracted. Close together, they clutched their necks, chests, diaphragms as Clyde Emmanuel Archer audibly counted and cued them from the back of the group. Eventually their legs began to reach out in gorgeous extensions, only to snap back in. Among the motifs, one that stood out was performed by Pardes, once again in the center, surrounded by the other five: one hand to her heart, the other fist raised, trembling.

While the repetition of these key phrases and motifs did create a sense of ritual and return, the larger arc of what was happening and why they were so tormented remained unclear. For a work subtitled “The Brutal Journey of the Heart,” there was little sense of any love relationships among the dancers much less going on a journey from one emotional state to another. They hardly looked one another in the eye and mostly focused their defiant attention out toward the audience. The result was fragmented and shallow; glimpses of visceral pain and pleasure, performed through the dancers’ contortions. But where was the source of that pain or that pleasure . . . was there ever love?

L-E-V in unitards by Maria Grazia Chiuri of Christian Dior Couture for “Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart” by Sharon Eyal. Photograph by Stefan Dottor for Dior

When they did partner, which was rare, the choreography seemed to indicate mere physical encounters. For example, when two men finally came together in an intimate embrace, they simply turned in circles, propelled by the percussive thrusts of their hips. It was a moment in time that dissolved quickly, without history or future. In short, it didn’t speak to the heart nor did it leave much to agonize over.

 Even though “Chapter 3” is part of a trilogy, following up on “OCD Love” and “Love Chapter 2,” it was presented as a stand alone work. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling I was missing something, some necessary back story or subtext, in my lack of familiarity with those first two works.

In the program, there seemed to be a clue. Eyal wrote: “Moment. Silence. Dryness. Emptiness. Fear. Wholeness. Concealment. Longing. Black. Moon. Water. Corner. Smell. Demon. Gap. Coldness. Eyes. Intension. Impulse. Fold. Hideout. Color. Lis. Salt. huge. Side. Stitches. Love. Point.” Above this list was a quote from Hanya Yanagihara’s Little Life about damage and loss. While these notes offered some window about the choreographer’s intention to showcase brokenness, they did little to add meaning to the experience of watching “Chapter 3.” The dancers were clearly feeling deeply but even so, as an observer, it was hard to get beyond mere spectating. I was ready to go on a heartbreaking journey with them, unfortunately, the audience wasn’t brought along.