L-E-V’s “Love Chapter II” at the Joyce Theater starts with a harsh knocking sound, and tender, sinewy bodies already holding vulnerable parts of themselves. With one hand protecting a throat, belly or rib, the other reaches up while bevelled feet root the six dancers to the floor. They grow and grow in (almost) unison tormented by the thumping beat of DJ Ori Lichtik’s thrilling live score.
The dancers, clad in washed-out blue bodysuits are all bone and muscle, creased and contorted by choreographer Sharon Eyal’s signature off-kilter pliés and relevés, the base for loose torsos and spines. Black socks sometimes accentuate their articulate feet, and sometimes amputate them under the sparse lights of Alon Cohen.
As in earlier work, such as “OCD Love,” Sharon Eyal’s choreography extends key concepts of Ohad Naharin’s Gaga movement language, which she explored as a member of Batsheva Dance Company. Eyal’s dances deal with love and longing, drawing out physical contradictions, such as finding comfort in the uncomfortable, and holding positions that are painful to sustain but beautiful to observe.
One such moment happens early in the piece. To an apocalyptic soundscape of strings and nondescript banging, one by one the dancers assume long, stretched out positions on the floor, balancing on one hand and the ball of one foot. For the first half of the hour-long work, their movements are constrained, with each neatly occupying their own space. Cemented on the spot, they compensate by fearlessly gyrating their spines in exciting contortions.
Slowly, they begin traversing the stage before they confront us, simultaneously sexy and tortured. They continue to move in and out of unison, snaking left and right as a clump with formidable speed. Darren Devaney stands out in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it solo with high, showgirl-esque kicks.
Unpredictability becomes a motif as jazz and flamenco color certain phrases, and the dancers relish in slinky transitions from twisted body positions and tricky balances. Tight muscles suddenly find length as the dancers recover from shrivelled poses—another contradiction.
Eyal takes sweeping balletic lines and shapes and taints them to a fiendish quality, which strikes me as a way to say something extreme about the human condition. Perhaps the surprising quality of the movement stands for the inconstancy of human nature when under pressure or at the mercy of our emotions.
At one point, the music (slowly creeping up in volume) becomes overwhelming, too loud and obtrusive, fatiguing audience and dancers alike. The six bodies on stage, glistening with sweat but just as relentlessly freakish, seem constantly at the mercy of an outside force, controlling them as they huddle close or break out in agony. The last section features a strutting phrase, where every time they turn a corner it looks like one of them might just strut off stage to safety. They never quite make it—and are required to keep going, forming a co-dependency of sorts.
For a short while the piece lightens up, reminiscent of Eyal’s more playful work, such as “Bill,” with the dancers throwing around exaggerated grooves to a haunting Spanish requiem. Everything seems sunny until one dancer resists the groove and air punches the others with a sinister sharpness. They convulse but continue their fun, going on in what seems to be a meditation on the endless cycle of violence/apathy in the world.
Once this violence becomes the new normal, the dancers resume their attention-grabbing strut around the stage, insensible to the cruelty they inflict. Their steady footfall continues long after curtain, leaving me to reflect on how much banal cruelty we exact on each other in our own lives.