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Yael Flexer’s “The Living Room” at Tmuna Theater

Posted on 09 April 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Yael Flexer’s The Living Room.  Photo by Chris Nash.

My preview of Yael Flexer’s The Living Room was initially published in the Jerusalem Post as “Make Yourself at Home.”

* * *

Make Yourself at Home

Like well-made furniture, Yael Flexer’s movement is functional.  So perhaps it’s fitting that in Flexer’s The Living Room, coming soon to Tel Aviv’s Tmuna Theater, the dancers jokingly furnish the bare space themselves, pretending to be sofas, bookshelves, and reading lamps.

It’s this kind of lively imagination that launched Israeli-born choreographer Yael Flexer to the top of England’s contemporary dance scene.  As a newcomer to the field, Flexer became choreographer in residence at The Place Theatre in London, and shortly thereafter, she founded Bedlam Dance Company.  Over the years, her smart sense of humor, playful investigation of the nature of performance, and dynamic partnerships with artists in other disciplines made her a favorite in British dance circles.

Among Flexer’s constellation of collaborators is Nic Sandiland, an engineer-turned-artist whose adventurous work spans installations, video, and performance.  The pair’s creative cooperation deepened during the last several years, and ultimately, the partners decided to coin their joint endeavor Yael Flexer, Nic Sandiland/Dance and Digital Works.

While the umbrella organization’s name might conjure up images of dances layered with digital media, Flexer notes, “We like to make very separate things.”  She elaborates, “It’s almost like two sides of the coin, working in two different mediums.  I think sometimes when people hear ‘Dance and Digital Work,’ they think of work that’s very hi-tech, and actually, the live work is very low-tech, no tech at all.  And even though the installation work is hi-tech, it doesn’t have that hi-tech aesthetic.  It’s really about intimacy with the viewer.”

Flexer’s live work similarly fosters this intimacy between performers and viewers.  The choreographer explains that she is interested in exploring “the idea that we witness one another so it’s not just about the audience watching us [the performers] but it’s also about us in a sense watching them, and there’s a kind of equality of gaze and an equality of power between us.  It’s always breaking the fourth wall.”

This fourth wall is decidedly demolished in The Living Room, which the company is touring to Israel.  Reflecting on the setting of the dance, Flexer clarifies, “it’s not really a living room.  I think it’s more a rehearsal space, and in some ways we’re inviting the audience into our space. . . . there’s something about allowing people into our space and having a very light or inviting essence of us all being together in one room.”

Yael Flexer’s The Living Room.  Photo by Chris Nash.

In The Living Room, the choreographer and her fellow performers – an international cast of five dancers and the cellist Karni Postel, who hails from Israel – welcome the viewers into their world with witty banter.  The dancers do not assume dramatic characters but instead perform as themselves, and as the work references the real situations and domestic lives of those onstage, the audience develops a special familiarity with the performers.

The dancers’ often comical attempts to imagine and become furniture in their performance space further engage and entertain the viewer.  Yet while these efforts may be couched in levity, they also provide an opportunity for deeper contemplation on the concept of home.  Though Flexer asserts that there are many possible interpretations of The Living Room, she acknowledges that the work’s inquisitive treatment of home – and what she calls the “unhome” – is at least partially connected to her vantage point as an Israeli living abroad.  “This particular work definitely refers a lot to cultural baggage, or what is culture and how it is a part of you,” she says.  At times, the transplanted choreographer refers to English culture with its polite pleasantries, and at other points she slips into Hebrew and alludes to other aspects of Israeli culture.  Having premiered the work in England just a few weeks ago, Flexer is excited to bring The Living Room to Tel Aviv and gain a different perspective from Israeli viewers.  “It will be great to see how an Israeli audience reads it,” she anticipates.

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