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Full-Fledged Mystery in Light and Shadow: LeeSaar at PS122’s COIL Festival

My friend from Israel was able to give me some help with the monologue delivered in Hebrew and some background on the Israeli pop music featured in LeeSaar’s production of Geisha at PS122 last month, but I still walked away with plenty of questions about the dance. Which was fine.

Jye-Hwei Lin and Saar Harari in Geisha. Photo by Justin Bernhaut.
Jye-Hwei Lin and Saar Harari in Geisha. Photo by Justin Bernhaut.

LeeSaar the Company was formed by writer and actress Lee Sher and dancer and choreographer Saar Harari in their native Israel in 2000; they relocated to New York in 2004. Much of their work deals explicitly with politics, geography, violence, and war. While Geisha shares some of these themes, they are presented coolly and mysteriously, allowing the dancing and the dancers to surface as the most potent stuff of the evening.

The piece more or less alternates between phases of dance and music, opening with a long solo by Taiwanese dancer Jye-Hwei Lin, clad in only a tight pair of jeans. She is the definition of impressive, taking up the whole black stage to silently, determinedly shift from embodiment to embodiment, power to power. She moves fiercely from feline strut to getaway dash, and from pandering sweetie pie (backs of hands to chin with a Cheshire smile) to suicidal jail breaker (a caught look followed by a self-inflicted blow to the chest and subsequent stillness). Her movements, abruptly angular but flowing with grace, reveal emotion after emotion but keep meaning close to the vest.

Before Lin is joined by her masculine counterweight, Harari, there is a musical intermission. Sher, dressed in a short red kimono and stylish turban, comes stepping lightly out from stage right in a spotlight, wielding a big silver mic. She performs an impressive lip synch to 1980s Israeli singing star Sharon Lifshitz’s “It Is Difficult Without You,” a classic-sounding big-reverb pop ballad. Near the end, she strolls up through the crowd, mouthing the words longingly into select men’s eyes, and even takes a hand or two in the process. She is given a genuine round of applause after the epic final notes.

We rejoin Geisha’s darker half when Lin reappears on stage, this time with Harari, who is also wearing only jeans. He, too, shifts—between dizzyingly fluid hip-circles and authoritarian arm slashes, his moves, at times sexy at times nearly grotesque, but consistently powerful. Lin and Harari’s chemistry is enthralling. They quickly become each other’s shadows, adversaries, confidants, irritants. They mirror or watch one another as each runs from side to side only to abruptly stop, and they kick and chop precisely in all directions—out of aimless aggression or truly engaged in battle is not always obvious. They rarely touch but remain cognizant of their twin presence.

A second song, this one by Rita (whom my friend would describe as the Barbara Streisand of Israel), also presented by Sher in lip synch, is preceded by a short recitation in Hebrew. I would learn that it began something like, “How is it out there for you, audience? It sure is scary up here.” Sher wraps this ballad with a glissando of luscious hand waves and kisses to the crowd, enacting real diva self-satisfaction before striding offstage.

When Geisha ended, all the songs went silent, all the red and black flashes went dim, with Lin and Harari…having run out of options? Or having decided to join forces? Maybe neither of the above. It’s difficult to say, but when Geisha ended, I felt as if I had come face to face with a giant multi-faceted jewel—some sides illuminated in my view, some quite hidden. And that was truly fine.


April Greene

April Greene, the Rail's dance editor, lives, writes, and bikes in Brooklyn.


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2009

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