By Melanie Kloetzel
Roy Assaf enjoys circularity. Whether it is three men with linked arms rotating through quick patterns of the feet, a body spinning around its own axis, or a compositional arc that repeats almost verbatim a striking beginning cross, the circle runs deep for Assaf. Even when very obvious nods to folk dance movements surface in the work or four hands relentlessly attempt to join but fail, such moments rarely resist this inevitable circularity.
Assaf presented two works at Vertigo on October 22, 2015. For Six Years Later, a heterosexual couple demonstrates various stages of intimacy. While we witness such clear and poignant gestures as a palm tucked under another’s chin or as a whole arm inserted between another’s legs, all too often the gestures are incomplete, leaving us wondering at the possibilities for the relationship. Much of the work explores an awkward, but sweet, intimacy that resonates within the simple spatial pathways that the dancers cut through the space. And, while I could not call the work memorable, certain moments – an insistent repetitive chest shove by the slight female dancer or the ceaseless shimmy that moved through sound and silence – continue to reverberate.
In the all-male trio, The Hill, Assaf attempts to follow in the footsteps of DV8, Hofesh Shechter, and other in-demand male choreographers making work to celebrate maleness and the influences on male relationships. The first half of the work is incessant – the rhythm rarely changes, the men follow fast patterns of interlacing, spinning, and weaving with little punctuation to draw the eye. Assaf again, as in Six Years Later, inserts a moment of casual and conversational walking in The Hill, but he also adds such curious snippets as a balloon popping or an aggressive shout, seemingly to pique our interest. But these moments too slide away, back into the repetitive rotations and interweaving of the men. Only near the end, after each man breaks off into a haphazard, disconnected solo, does a shift occur. As one man stands looking outward in a frank and open manner, the other two men seem to turn a corner, engaging in an earnest and very physical duel that captivates the eye. Then, suddenly, the singled out man departs, leaving a rift that the other two appear incapable of managing.
Not that the above thoughts are what we are ‘supposed’ to see. The voluminous program notes for each piece mention infinitely more ideas – political, social, or emotional – that we will theoretically witness in the work. And, while some of these themes came across more readily than others, the evening ended up being hampered by a whiff of insincerity or casual indifference that never quite allowed one to engage. Perhaps it was the music, that sounded more like an awkwardly-assembled playlist for an Ethan Hawke film, or perhaps it was the lack of accent or development in the work. Either way, I look forward to seeing Assaf take a step outside of the circle and into a new pattern where memorable, dynamic, and heartfelt moments become the norm rather than the oddity.