Reut Shemesh’s Atara – for you, who has not yet found the one reads like a love letter. The title alone suggests an emotional intimacy and intensity as if the artist were addressing her audience directly. Indeed, to end the performance, performer Hella Immler makes eye contact and pronounces a list of individuals the performance was made for “…and even you who has everything and yet still not”. We are brought into the fold, us, the audience, whether married or unmarried, content or discontent — and we are acknowledged as people in search for something.
At the beginning of the performance, we see a series of still photographs of the Torah, women’s faces, their shoes, and a ring placed on a Jewish bride’s index finger. Two women dressed in Orthodox outfits dance neatly together, in perfect intersecting circles. Overhead, a scalene triangle hangs mysteriously, casting blue fluorescent light, the colour of Hannukah, of God’s glory. How does symmetry square with asymmetry? How are our lives in balance and off balance?
The trio of performers carried a powerful sense of yearning, hope, and alienation all at once. Slipping between sentimental and strange, Shemesh draws her audience into a world where community life defines a person, sometimes as a restraint and other times as a liberation. While she turned her gaze upon the distinctive lived experiences of Jewish Orthodox women, secular Israelis, and indeed her own identity as an Israeli immigrant, what she sought to express seemed to be just beyond the reach of any singular identity. In mixing different Hebrew songs together, or having the male performer Florian Patschovsky dress like an Orthodox woman and perform in the trio, what we receive is a sense that nothing is ever quite what it seems.
Oftentimes the performers stare inquisitively out into the audience, in various poses and tableaux. Sometimes they hold themselves like figures of beatification, or figures of seduction. Their enigmatic expressions reveal their vulnerable humanity, as performers carrying out a sequence of actions, bringing their full selves to the stage. In an extended sequence of stomping reminiscent of folk dance, the complex rhythms requiring intense concentration, one gets the sense that while the dance might express joy, or accomplishment, or togetherness, it is their effort that counts. Whereas a typical rhythmic folk dance might drive towards cathartic release, in Shemesh’s sequences we receive mixed emotions — the emotions of women, men, mothers, dancers, who fight to keep going through rituals and patterns of community life. The ending stomp is a statement of undeniable accomplishment, but perhaps also controlled frustration.
When Tzipora Nir sings a combination of Hebrew songs, her plaintive tone, her shifting between commanding and yearning, devotional and primal, it is moving beyond words. My skin crawls and my heart soars; a visceral reaction to something that seemed more than my body’s everyday understanding of itself. Atara – for you, who has not yet found the one seems to dig deep into Reut Shemesh and her team’s personal experiences, and while at first glance it seems to be about marriage and singlehood, in the end, it is the emotional tensions around community, a sense of union with others and perhaps with God, that remains a question for the audience to ponder.