“Mamootot” – Challenging the Performer-Spectator Divide

Posted on 09 January 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

(Video: Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s Mamootot)

Last year, I viewed excerpts from Mamootot on DVD, but I suspected that nothing could compare to attending a live performance of the dance.

I finally got to see Batsheva Dance Company in Mamootot today – and I was correct in my assumption.

Created in 2003 by Ohad Naharin with the participation of Sharon Eyal and the company’s dancers, Mamootot trades the comfort zone of the proscenium for the four-sided square of the studio.  Like Naharin’s other choreography, the dance is filled with inventive movement, but here it is the exploration of this unusual space – and the interplay of the performers and spectators within it – which assumes center stage.  Indeed, as the dancers sit motionless among audience members to the song “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together,” it’s clear that what will follow is not the typical concert experience.

Throughout Mamootot, I wondered what the other people seated around the studio’s four sides were seeing and thinking.  How does each movement look from different vantage points?  How might someone else, sitting opposite me, interpret the dance differently simply because of the angle?  Sometimes this issue is resolved as dancers rush from side to side, executing the same phrase again and again so that each section of audience members assumes the designation of “front.”   But for most of the performance, we viewers are left to grapple with performers who sometimes turn their back on us.

Yet at other moments, the dancers are next to us, scattered in reserved seats and observing their fellow dancers.  They also face us, walking slowly around the perimeter and scanning the crowd.  This grows into an even greater transgression of the fourth wall as the dancers extend their hands to viewers.  As they touch and gaze into people’s eyes, they remove the usual barrier between performer and spectator.

This is just one of many intimate moments in Mamootot.   We are privileged with this proximity to the dancers; we hear their breathing, feel them as they sit next to us, and see just how alive every bit of their bodies is in this space where nothing is hidden.  We even watch one dancer disrobe completely, displaying his sculpted body without ceremony.

This moment, like the breaking of the fourth wall, might also be perceived by some as a provocation.  So too might the silences followed by sudden bursts of loud music, the long stillnesses juxtaposed with prolonged unison sections, and the slow pacing.  The challenges to the audience keep coming, but so too do the moments of what my eyes view as honesty and unusual beauty.  I wish I could see Mamootot again – and again, and again, so that my eyes could take in this experience from all sides.

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