אזרח טוב [Good Citizen]

By Rami Be’er for Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company | Zichri Theatre, Ga’aton, Nov. 2019

What can’t a dancer do?

The last work I saw before visiting Israel was Anthony Hamilton’s debut for Chunky Move, Token Armies. A definitive work of spectacle (indeed, the consummate straight-White man’s work) Hamilton’s piece regrettably left me asking what a dancer could do. What are the potentials of dance at this point in its trajectory? Where to next, and what have we left to ask? What might dancing, of itself, offer to audiences now?

Many things, I would think. That is I have great faith in the capacity of the dancer as an artist to create space for both less and more in twain. I have great faith that they might revel in the fresh challenges posed by the climate crisis; the shift from embodiment to digital materiality; the (slow) championing of non-Western forms in theatre. Moreover, I have great faith in those that make space for this space-making: the choreographers, the directors, the companies that lend these artists temporary refuge. 

How unfortunate then that אזרח טוב [Good Citizen]—the latest work by Rami Be’er for Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company—has left me asking the opposite: what can’t a body do, and when could it do less?

I would love to start this review with a summary of אזרח טוב but anything close escapes me entirely. It’s a work defined by a lack of choice and thus a work defined by being indefinable in the worst way. It is a work so over-populated with movement and information that, were these choices made purposefully, I may have enjoyed the sheer frenesis of its rapidity and intensity. Instead, I am left over-exposed and underwhelmed—angry, even, that the dancers could be so let down by their director. 

As you enter Zichri Theatre keen eyes might spy the mercurial reflections of feet below the blushing hemline of the curtain. I thrilled over this brief glimpse into Be’er’s world as yet unrevealed: a Monet of flesh and stage, of anxiety too. The curtain splits and the piece begins with an introduction or an attempt at ‘location’. Each dancer stands in a spotlight as a recording states their name and the phrase “good citizen” in Hebrew.

From there, the work quickly devolves into countless tableaus and scenes of various qualities and queries.

Flexed, splayed palms press near brow bones in a blind sensitivity à la Pan’s Labyrinth and spiralling, terse investigations of the ribcage preamble languid legs that reach outward into nothing much. Many legs, in fact, climb the fictive ladder and remain suspended as if waiting for applause. Extensions, but why? Suspension, but why? Again, what can’t a dancer do, and when might they do less?

The walking used throughout is awkward, perhaps purposefully, but in hand with the running sequences where the dancers’ arms move faster than their stride I am baffled. Is this supposed to be curt? If so, brilliant because the awkwardness of the vocabulary is astounding. Note the miniature goblin steps and convulsions, the rotating wrists and hands emulating beaks like Big Bird’s first rumba lesson. 

In short, the piece reads as if your estranged friend is trying to retell Noah’s Ark to you via postcards depicting the karma sutra. At times oddly childish and truncated and at others overt and clingy. Somehow animalian and sexual but also quintessentially mindless. A vacuous work.

The costuming is unflattering. The blue coverall aesthetic (think Bill Cunningham, or dare I invoke Joe Goode’s 29 Effeminate Gestures) is appealing from a working-class perspective or from a place critiquing notions of labour or uniformity. However, this is not apparent in אזרח טוב and the dancers are further dislocated by the ‘non-specific’ quality of high cut shorts and tanks for the women and narrow pants for the men. Why gender this work? God forbid I write a review and have to ask “Why blue?” but here I am—frustrated by the lack of conviction that permeates this work.

Additionally, in a Brechtian space such as this wherein the ventricles of the black box theatre are exposed there is something to be said about deconstruction as a mode of dance-making. In such a space I will immediately read the world as critical of artifice. Call me basic if you must, but black box works must acknowledge the contrivance of the relationship between the artists and the audience. Yet, for whatever reason, אזרח טוב is happy to throw material at the audience in a fawning, faux-Romantic appeal to a seemingly bemused public. 

And so, in asking what can’t a dancer do I turn to the director—the person who I invest faith in with regard to stemming the stream; taming the fires and providing ethic and rationale for the work as a whole. 

There were often moments where I felt insulted as an audience member and felt insulted on behalf of the dancers themselves. For instance, two dancers saunter across the stage from wing to wing, shaking their chests and grinning as their feet weave a loose grapevine below. Their faces and movements imply camp abandon and yet, within the context of this ‘world’, the duet seems forced and sad.

Why make these dancers do this? Why make the audience watch this when the work has, for the most part, pandered to self-seriousness and tension?

In a company like KCDC—where the dancers are well equipped technically and artistically to research the juiciest themes and questions—I can only grieve the failure of Be’er to edit this work into anything close to concision and purpose; anything resembling a work about something, or indeed anything at all. 

This work made me question why I watch dance and has depressed me somewhat. My feelings aside (god knows they’re fragile) I cannot understate how much these dancers deserve better. If being a good citizen means sacrificing dignity for the sake of a director’s lack of agency and indulgent mindset then baptise these dancers under the sign of dissidents to come.

What can’t a dancer do? Here’s one answer: this. ∎

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