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Zvidance, headed by Zvi Gotheiner, is a company I've admired for its elasticity, athleticism and emotional expressivity. All those characteristics are on display in the very smart choreography of the admirable, engrossing Dabke, which the company will perform one more night as the American Dance Festival's Reynolds Theater series continues.
The Dabke is an Arab folk dance that waves of Zionist settlers and subsequently Israelis adopted and transfigured into the Israeli Debka. In both traditions, it is a line dance with solo breakouts by the leader, originally danced by men only. The word "dabke" means stomping of the feet, and that in turn implies a powerful connection to the earth, the land of home, while the linked bodies in the line tell of a people's solidarity with each other. The Debka was a staple of Friday night dancing on the kibbutz in northern Israel where Gotheimer grew up.
Gotheiner, along with his dancers, has taken the basic elements of this simple dance and made something complex, which in 50 minutes takes the dancers and the audience whipping through a series of powerful emotions. It is all done with dancing – not a word is uttered.
We seem to start at the beginning of time, as the light is separated from the darkness. Barely visible, a figure moves onto the stage, and we hear the distinctive rhythm of his footfalls. Despite many changes in instrumentation, color and emotional tone in the music, that basic rhythm persists throughout. As the lights come up, a woman attempts to join the dancing – he repulses her. More people appear; the women are rejected or ignored repeatedly by the men. Although finally they relent, hostility and aggression flare periodically throughout.
A full line of all eight dancers forms, and one understands instantly why the traditional dance is so well-loved. The linked dancers, arms wrapped around shoulders and waists, all stamping together, kicking high and tossing their heads, embody a glorious community power.
But Gotheiner is a contemporary choreographer. He draws from the folk tradition; he does not merely repeat it. The line breaks apart into numerous stunning variations on the theme by one, two or more of the dancers. They maintain the beat, but with such freedom! The upper bodies are incredibly loose and active, the arms stretched and whirling into the sky or caressing the ground, the heads turning and tossing on the pliant necks. Between stamping the beats, the legs kick and lash.
About mid-way in the dance, the dancers begin to hit the floor, connecting even more strongly with the land. And in the most powerful moment of the piece, a big man strips off his sweat-soaked top and presses onto the earth – I mean, the stage floor – before waving it like a flag. "My sweat is in this land," the moment seems to say, "I claim this land with my labor."
There is much more, too many quickly limned emotions and passions to describe, too many inventive solos and combinations. Dabke ends similarly to the way it began, in the dark – but the beat of a pair of percussive feet persists until it is drowned by the roar of cheering applause.
No one wanted to leave the theater while our hearts were still thumping in synchrony with that beat. People stood around like the whole thing might start up again. The ushers had to usher the audience towards the lobby, and then toward the doors. That's some powerful dancing.
This highly recommended program repeats tonight only. See our sidebar for details.