Deganit Shemy at the River to River Festival

There’s a strange, fascinating little nook in the financial district, not far away from our offices. It’s a haphazard, multi-level outdoor space tucked next to the John Street United Methodist Church–essentially an alley, but euphemestically a “courtyard.” This afternoon, thanks to Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Sitelines series, a part of the River To River Festival, it also became a stage.

Israeli choreographer Deganit Shemy’s 2 kilos of sea takes full advantage of the courtyard’s quirks: Dancers drape themselves over walls, bang on metal handrails with sticks, climb lampposts. As in most site-specific works, the dance was in part about the space–exploring it, exploiting it.

Yet what I love most about Shemy’s dances is not their use of space; it’s their use of people. (And I don’t mean bodies, necessarily.) At the opening of sea, the six smiling, giggling dancers cavort through variations on folk steps, accompanied by what sounds like a carnival calliope. Then the music darkens, and the frolicking devolves into something stormier, stickier, more mysterious. These dancers aren’t innocents–at least not anymore–and their moods change suddenly and violently. A hand held to an ear to conceal a whispered secret suddenly becomes a stranglehold; tickling becomes poking, becomes stabbing. Shemy’s people are taking a beautiful walk along that all-too-clichéd–yet all-too-real–line between pain and pleasure, love and hate, happiness and unhappiness. They’ve glimpsed paradise–and then lost it.

2 kilos of sea will be performed at the John Street United Methodist Church, 44 John Street, through July 15th. Visit rivertorivernyc.com for more info.

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