Last Tuesday, the historical Moore Theater was home to L-E-V Dance Company’s touring production of OCD Love, a creation dealing with “out of sync” relationships, and, based on the poem that inspired it, mental illness. The Israeli company is relatively young, formed in 2013 by long-time collaborators Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar. It’s not surprising to see Gaga influences in their work, as Eyal was a member of the world-renowned Batsheva Dance Company for 18 years, serving as dancer, associate Artistic Director, and House Choreographer. After choreographing for dance companies around the world under Batsheva’s name, Eyal departed from the famous company, joining forces with Bahar, to found her own. L-E-V is the Hebrew word for “heart.”
The piece opened with a solo, a woman crouching in uncomfortable-looking contortions to clicking sounds. She worked slowly, finding awkward balances, tightening and expanding with tense viscosity. The lengthy opening segment featured exaggerated lumbar extension, craning neck shapes, and joints bent to almost inhuman angles. These proved to be part of the movement vocabulary throughout the work. A tall, shirtless male dancer entered the space, one arm held out to the side, walking regally around her, making silky figure eights with his ribcage…the kind of walk one could watch for an indefinite amount of time.
The first duet set the tone for the rest of the relationships within the work—distant and enigmatic. The piece transitioned seamlessly from solos to duets, to group work. However, the same configurations seemed to appear with little done to distinguish their meaning. One common arrangement was one solo against the five other dancers in a group, reinforcing a feeling of isolation. While the choreography itself was beguiling, the overall composition read as stale and repetitious.
Despite the underwhelming architecture, the L-E-V dancers performed the work with exceptional precision and strength. Most of the piece included thwarting themselves into tangles and knots, only to struggle to find their way to a different contortion. Music by DJ Ori Lichtik magnified the space, and while powerful in its impact, unfortunately took much away from the performance. With the combination of a fog-filled stage and a constant intensity in the sound, it was often difficult to concentrate on the message the dance was trying to give. In a moment where a canon of a small head turns should have been poignant, the all-encompassing vibration overpowered the subtle choreography. There were other moments, however, where the music pleasantly aligned with the apparent purpose of the movement. In a male duet set to techno party beats, the dancers were finally permitted to allow a more natural “groove” into their bodies, feeling like a much needed exhale after so many sombre shapes. Explosive jumps rattled the environment and put some lightness and color in the work. The agility and skill in all six cast members, especially during moments such as these, pushed the piece along gratifyingly.
Clad in revealing black costumes, the dancers’ impressive physiques got the attention they deserve while striking rigid, muscular positions. Their world class training was evident, like looking through a clear glass window, and there was no stumble or hesitancy in sight. However, apart from a moment of looking at each other whilst standing still, it was rare to see any true sensibility coming from them. Grotesque expressions randomly spread across their deadpan faces like they were just injected with artificial emotions. One dancer cried like a cartoon, twisting his fist next to his cheekbone, wearing a clownish frown and silently wailing. One yelled something inaudible, another smiled creepily. Perhaps these dramatized expressions were agonizing images of what the psyche goes through when trying to navigate mental illness.
For a piece claiming to be about missed love, and largely inspired by the poem “OCD” by Neil Hilborn, it was hard to find any trace of love in the work. The poem is a cry of desperate yearning, a heartbreaking testimony of how mental illness is remedied by and also can destroy love. Even when dysfunctional, love at its core is an expression of humanity itself. Love is never perfect, and creator Sharon Eyal writes in the program that the work is about love that is “full and intact, but has many holes in it. This work is about the holes.” OCD Love appeared to be one dark hole. While it’s never expected that the idea of love be put on a stage literally, there was a severe lack of connection, both between the dancers and the viewers. It would have been helpful to first see some authentic relationships before dismantling them into a cold, shadowy environment. When the music attempted to switch gears to a softer, violinistic sound, the piece had already lost its viewer in a sea of disfigurement and cluttered ideas. Individual segments of the work were astoundingly compelling: the movement, the music, and the costumes all spoke volumes, but together they held little coherency.
OCD Love was performed at The Moore Theater on November 14th, 2017. Find more information about L-E-V Dance Company here.