Shown at the International Season of the Tel Aviv Dance Festival, Suzanne Dellal
The masterpieces of the romantic and classic ballet constructed the first agreed upon representations of gender in the history of dance: Ethereal ballerinas with pointe shoes and a white tutu, alongside male dancers in the role of princes searching for sublime love who led, supported and propelled the ballerinas into the skies. The image of the ballerina as the swan has been established over the years as an iconic image in ballet, and in many ways in dance generally, and is perceived as the ideal reflection of a woman’s appearance, and the appropriate ways in which she should move.
The genres developed after the ballet, challenged these portrayals: Martha Graham’s modern dance work presented heroines in their own right, who not only moved inside the work, but also moved the narrative forward; the dance-theater work of Pina Bausch located real people on stage, in particular men and women whose bodies are in constant conflict with social perceptions of masculinity and femininity; and contemporary dance, that not only displays various representations of otherness (in terms of gender, ethnicity or physicality) but exhausts the notion of particularity with respect to individuals, bodies and the unique movement they generate.
“Submission” is a new work from Adi Boutrous that echoes the critical stance of contemporary dance towards traditional gender representation, as a direct continuation of his intellectual and movement process that appeared in his work “It’s Always Here” (which was shown at the Curtain Up Festival approximately two years ago), which dealt with the way that body and identity are intertwined. Boutrous now deepens his research into gender and weaves together familiar cultural motifs along with personal patterns which are, at times, surprising, in two duets – one for men, and the other for women. Both rely on similar movement aesthetics while simultaneously reflecting significant differences in the qualities of physical expression, and these are offered as alternatives to the normative read of male and female in society and on stage.
The starting point for “Submission” is the duet that was performed by Adi Boutrous and Avshalom Latucha in the previous work, which presents dance movements that can be interpreted as typically male, such as grabbing the head in two hands, powerful lifts, climbing and sitting on the shoulders, flips and crawling on the floor etc. The duet is even accompanied by the song “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor,” a kind of folk-blues hymn of courtship, and the interaction between the two dancers reflects innumerable moments that we experience as a power struggle in light of the contrasting segments of movement and stillness, focus and spreading in space.
However, from the beginning of the duet it is apparent that the bodies are not one-dimensional, as they embody a range of movements from a variety of contexts, such as Latucha’s rounded arms, that seem to reference the familiar repertoire of ballet instruction, or acrobatic elements like surfing on the floor, which belongs to more physical dance styles like Breakdance. Moreover, the movement sections of the two dancers together include moments of respite, in which the intensity and the tension are replaced by softness and flow, and the dynamic of sparring for control transforms into an attempt to create oneness from the two separate bodies, as Latoucha repeatedly places his arms, his legs or his head in vacant spaces in Boutrous’ bodily structure.
The female section of “Submission” commences at the point where “It’s Always Here” concludes. After a series of backward falls that culminate in a head-stand, Boutrous and Latoucha exit on one side of the arena while the dancers Anat Vaadia and Stav Struz enter from the other side, and position themselves center stage. Dramaturgically, this structural shift frames the two duets as equal parts of the same choreographic sequence, a kind of variation on the same subject, a feeling that is reinforced by the repetition of movement elements from the first section in the female duet. In this context, a significant moment occurs when the two performers face each other, Vaadia bent over and slightly down-stage of Struz, as she catches her breath, exactly in the way that previously Boutrous had stood face to face with Latucha. The presentation of this intimate situation twice, in two gender-specific “versions”, invites the viewer to reflect on whether they are “reading” the body position as voluntary relaxation or a collapse from weakness in response to the gender identity they are facing.
Like the male duet, the dance that Vaadia and Struz perform together is also characterized by qualities that are almost intuitively interpreted as feminine, like circularity, but particularly prominent is the demonstrative release of the body by each of them individually and in the contact between them, hugging and flirting like the samba music that accompanies them. Moreover, during the section where they run in a circle, which at times looks like a game in which the pursuer becomes the pursued, we hear their laughter and their sighs of effort in a way that emphasizes how the female body in ballet has no voice, because the technique strives to repress its materiality to the extent that even the echo of its jumps disappear and becomes a silent void. On the other hand, in the interaction between Vaadia and Struz, the body is not only heard, but the two dancers visibly relish their devotion to its sensuality and voluptuousness, in contrast to what is perceived as normative feminine behavior in public and on stage.
It appears that Adi Butrous’ choreographic journey into the grey areas of gender not only seeks to advocate for new possibilities in the representation of both masculinity and femininity, but also to totally rethink the body. It is not by chance that his work is saturated with gestures that can be interpreted as submissive, like Stav Struz’s outstretched arms, or Avshalom Latucha’s moments of “collapse” into the body of Boutrous. Despite everything, precisely at this moment in time, and exactly in the place in which we are living which perceives submission as a position of weakness, Adi Boutrous chooses to present it as a surrendering concession that is vital to liberation and change, and primarily to our return to ourselves.