There’s a sort of joke in the midst of the otherwise serious Grass and Jackals, which was performed by LeeSaar The Company at Alverno College Saturday. The first ten minutes of the hour-long dance is set to atmospheric electronica--ambient music, if you like. And I say “set to” in the loosest sense of the word. For that time, the seven women of the company move like isolated beings in a wild habitat—twitching and stretching in jet-black iridescent unitards. But when Gry & FM Einheit’s “Princess Crocodile” kicks in with it’s scratchy, trip-hop, retro-swing beat, the stage clears. As the beat goes on, a dancer marches to center stage, drops into a half-squat/half-split, and stares motionless at the audience for a good 15 seconds, until another marches in and takes her place. Their stillness and glare says something like, “I don’t have to dance to your beat if I don’t want to.”
It is a company, in fact, that does dance to the beat of a different drummer. LeeSaar’s leaders, the Israeli-born duo of Lee Sher and Saar Harari, have built their 14-year-old company around the dance philosophy called Gaga, which has nothing to do the pop star in the weird clothes, or the general craziness of “going gaga.”
Created and developed by Ohad Naharin and the Batsheva Dance Company, Gaga is a style that embraces contradictions and opposites, movement that is layered and multi-dimensional. “At once,” Naharin wrote in 2008, “the users can be involved in moving slowly through space while a quick action in our body is in progress.”
That sense of contradiction is what makes Grass and Jackals so fresh and affective. Moments of extreme control clash with gestures that suggest wild abandon: arms spin at the shoulder with such speed they seem ready to fly into space; exaggerated strides send hips jutting to side-to-side extremes; a simple walk is made surreal as each step brings a foot to eye level. There are shakes, shivers, convulsions—but also flashes of lyricism, pairs of dancers uniting in a grand sweeping arc.
In Grass and Jackals, the otherworldly Gaga vocabulary suggests a universe of non-human creatures, which serves the ecological ideas at the center of the piece. The only spoken text in the soundtrack speaks of preserving life forms of all sorts. And the final scenes of the dance depict a stunning Firebird-like transformation. In the midst of one of the piece’s most dense ensembles, the dancers all drop to the floor, flat on their backs. The lights slowly dim in silence, and there’s a long moment of total stillness. But then, torsos and knees raise with a small jolt, as if the creatures were attempting one last lunge at life. Eventually, they all rise and witness the metamorphosis of one dancer, who peels away the dark skin to reveal a metallic gold layer underneath. It’s a spectacular touch of theatricality that caps an exciting new dance.