Horses in the Sky: Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company

Sydney Opera House, August 31.

Israeli choreographer Rami Be’er wears his heart on his sleeve in Horses in the Sky. The name comes from a doleful song by Canadian band Silver Mt. Zion but inevitably summons thoughts of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the end of days, which are faced with defiance, fear, small moments of tenderness and breakouts of manic energy.

Above all there is the necessity for people to be together.

Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company began and remains based in a kibbutz in northern Israel, and long-time artistic director Be’er learned dance as a child from KCDC’s founder, Holocaust survivor Yehudit Arnon. The history helps explain why such a powerful group dynamic underpins Horses in the Sky. While each dancer is utterly distinctive and there are key moments for individuals and couples, attention is always drawn back to the ensemble.

Kibbutz CDC_SOH_credit Prudence Upton 060
Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. Photo: Prudence Upton

Be’er isn’t afraid to hammer home an image or to use the undeniable impact of unison movement. One repeated motif of fluttering hands is particularly potent. Sometimes it’s seen with the group hunched over as if keening, the shapes simultaneously tough and helpless. At other times everyone holds their arms up high, perhaps in surrender, perhaps playfully, with energy shooting from the feet through the body to the fingertips.

A wild, sweaty section for the men is danced dangerously, all decorum gone. There’s no propriety either when the whole company works itself into a frenzy that, despite the superficial humour, has a desperate edge. The rough vitality is invigorating and it’s interesting that the company’s 16 women and men, all impressively muscular, let you see how hard they are working. It humanises them.

The costuming – which along with stage design, lighting and sound editing is credited to Be’er – reinforces a pervading sense of vulnerability. White undies and shirts, some tied loosely at the back, hint at a hospital, asylum or prison camp. It’s not a new idea by any means but there’s something very touching in the way the dancers commit to it so intensely.

They are greatly appealing performers and it was a pleasure to see them on this first (albeit very brief) visit to Sydney. The work itself, danced to a collage of contemporary music with a mournful and often aggressive cast, was a touch over-extended despite being only an hour long. You think you’ve seen everything Be’er wants to say, and then he says it again.

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