Impressions of: Yasmeen Godder's "Climax" at Gibney Dance Center
October 21, 2016
Choreography by Yasmeen Godder / Co-artistic director and Dramaturgy: Itzik Giuli
Creating Performers: Shuli Enosh, Dor Frank, Yuli Kovbasnian, Uri Shafir, Edu Turull Montells and Ofir Yudilevitch
Live Sound Installation: Tomer Damsky / Costumes: Adam Kalderon, Tami Lebovits
Installation: Edu Turull Montells / Lighting Design: Omer Sheizaf / Sound Design: Eran Sachs
Israeli choreographer Yasmeen Godder's Climax tests the endurance of both its six dancers and the audience. The performance takes place in and around Studios B and C at Gibney Dance’s Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center and lasts for nearly three hours. Such a length of time is enough to strike fear in the hearts of even the most experienced theatergoer, but duration isn't where Climax falters.
The performance offers minimal seating, and program notes indicate the audience is invited to “make choices about their own spectatorship.” Unfortunately, an open room, even a large clean one like Studio C, combined with a timid audience can result in people hovering around the edges. Such is the case during Climax — at least for these American attendees.
After the audience settles themselves on the floor, the dancers form a circle and gesture melodramatically. Then, they separate, walking around the room to offer their hand to seated audience members. They pull observers to their feet and guide them into a circle. Since the dancers are costumed casually, in jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers, audience and performers blend together.
The surprise participants quickly adapt to the rules of the circle, stepping when the dancers step. In a moment of surprise, two audience members are thrust into the center where they spontaneously grab hands. From the beginning, Climax establishes its most important tenet: The most effective and direct way to communicate emotional meaning is without language.
Once that idea is clearly demonstrated, it neither flags nor builds for the next two-and-a-half hours. The dancers explore different ideas of climax, sexual ones most obviously, through emotional and physical exhaustion. They swing and stumble around the room, roll from side to side on the floor making noises akin to a beeping smoke detector.
Eventually, the audience disperses throughout the room. At one point, a dancer sobs and prays for his life because his comrade has formed fingers into a gun and placed them in his mouth. At another, the company herds the audience around Studio C’s central pillar, only to circle us like sheep dogs, sniffing, oohing and ahhing. Though these scenes shift fluidly from one to the other, producing intriguing tableaus, they share an almost uniform energy that’s boring despite the variety of ideas presented.
Some exceptions interrupt the manic quirkiness. At one point, three men lie on their stomachs, while the three women straddle them from behind. They pull the men up by the shoulders into an extended cobra position. This role-reversal of the hetero-normative sexual position is both tender and forceful. Later, one dancer is lifted above the heads of her colleagues; she crouches on their shoulders, perhaps looking for an exit above her head. It is the one of the only moments where the group supports an individual — the climax of their story may only bolster the beginning of hers.
There are many artists who work in excess, but Chinese sculptor and provocateur Ai Weiwei immediately comes to mind while watching this performance. His installations, using thousands of pounds of tea or countless pearls, strip precious substances of their rarity and, therefore, their meaning and value as an object.
Climax presents its behavioral oddities in much the same way. The excess of strangeness negates its value. Perhaps Godder's goal is to expose the meaninglessness of the body as a symbol — to reveal the absurdity of our obsession over what a look or a feeling might mean when we've already lived the answer. She suggests that a sigh or a shudder can be taken at face value, a universal reaction of the body that offers valuable information even with linguistic meaning stripped away.