''Never The Less''... More or Less That's All

Imagine all the laughing and crying you would do over the course of six months, distilled into forty-five minutes. Then imagine these expressions deconstructed, rearranged and performed back at you by two puppet-like beings on a hyper-organized topography. That’s how I experienced “Never The Less,” a piece that Israel-born creator Zufit Simon describes as “a choreography for two faces, four eyes and two mouths.”

The performance begins with a simple lamp hanging upstage left. The two dancers (Simon is joined by Julieta Figueroa) take turns standing underneath it, but can’t seem to keep a straight face. They stifle giggles, as if privy to some joke the audience isn’t in on. Soon they make their way downstage to sit plainly in front of us. In unison the two faces bounce between smiles, half-smiles, frowns and silent screams. Isolations of the facial muscles show the gradations in between happiness and despair, while the two performers remain detached - mimicry is the subject here, not genuine emotion. And yet, as their faces move it’s hard not to twitch along in response; I was struck by how viscerally humans can be connected, even in this strange theatrical context.

This stationary face-dance expands into a fuller exploration of body language. Simon and Figueroa beat their thighs, shake their hands, whip their heads and convulse from their torsos. They move around the space in rhythmic patterns, falling in and out of synch with each other but always staying connected like two planets in orbit. Through all of this, one concept is abundantly clear: to a body, laughing and crying are almost the same thing.

The piece continues in this manner, with fake emotional states pulling the dancers back and forth like sinister tides. It gets exhausting to watch, and taxing to hear the relentless wails and maniacal laughter accompanying their movement. More attention could have been paid to the subtler states in between giddy happiness and total despair. I was also craving more contact between the two dancers, as a few moments of jostling and clambering between them showed ample partnering skills. But maybe that’s just the bias of a dancer wanting more “action.”

The beeps, crackles and buzzes of Alexander Sieber’s sound design crept in so subtly that one might miss them, except for one climactic industrial whoooosh which had the dancers running in terror, and audience members fidgeting in their seats. The lighting was also understated, presenting the two women in a purely pedestrian way. This stripped-down aesthetic added to the piece’s confrontational edge.

While the concept behind “Never The Less” is intriguing, and moments certainly make you think about societal norms of human interaction, more than anything I felt tested by the dancers’ repetitive, ritualistic mockery of emotional expression.

Dock 11 (Feb 26 - March 1, 2015)

By Jenn Edwards

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