Dancing in the Dark
By Shahar Shiloach for NRG (translated by Danya Elraz from Hebrew)
16/4/2005 , Tel Aviv, Israel
Entering a show like Axolotl is something that I allow myself to do, only when armed with a reporting mission. In fact, it was like a voyage, or a test.
I arrived at the Tmuna Theater, on Thursday night for a show that I am not sure can be clearly defined in theatrical terms. Karl Frost, the director, defines it as a dance performance.
The audience gathered in the theater bar, and was then led as a group into a dark parking lot where pages with a vague explanation of what was about to happen were hung up precariously.
“Axolotl is an interactive event where the audience, together with the performers, create a joint experience. Rather than looking out, the audience is invited to look inwards”, I read, and wasn’t sure if I understand what all this really means.
We were asked to remove our shoes, say goodbye to our bags, cover our eyes and use the restroom if we need, because it will be impossible to do so later. I was there alone, without my friends, and so I was able to watch the other people. Some of them seemed rather nervous, moving around in circles, or talking to each other in disquieting whispers. Some people knew each other, probably from the Contact Improvisation circles, and seemed so calm that they made me feel nervous. Shaking, I took my shoes off, and tried to implant my brain with details such as curly head, jeans, bracelet, sweater, braids, long hands. I knew I would be meeting them in the dark and I wanted to know to whom they belonged . And then, after I gave into the idea that I would meet these people in the dark, I noticed this guy that he and I once…. Never mind, you have to do this, close your eyes and dive.
Invisible hands led me gently through a big metal door and into the space, leaving me enveloped in darkness and in music. Birds, running water, singing. Melodic music, jazz, waves of water, bees, laughter. A seaside town, nature, people, life. Things I am familiar with. The music was magical, but other things quickly took the attention of my senses. The sense of touch, foremost. And then the sense of smell.
Hands. Many hands. Curious hands, gentle hands, hands that you can dance with, caress, feel. Long hands, short hands, hands that quickly touched my face to see if I am wearing a blindfold, or am I one of the ‘performers’ that see and knows and protects. Hands that checked my hands and identified them as female. There were hands that touched and moved on, others that were annoying and sticky. Hands that were cute and playful, hands that were uninteresting, and hands that made me feel at home. Then I met some feet too, wondering where they came from. Other hands surprisingly touched my feet, rolling my socks up to my knees and back down. And others that felt I am rather small, and can be lifted and put down somewhere else in the room. It was strange, funny, pleasant, and scary.
There is a lot of freedom in loosing your eyesight, in being a stranger in a foreign terrain. But in two hours things start to happen. What began off as a journey turned into a quest. I tried to return to places that were fun, where I could dance with many people at one go and feel safe. I wanted to learn the geography around me. I found myself avoiding people that laughed or talked, smells of sweat, groups of people and crowded areas. I was afraid that I would have to pee or drink, but during the whole performance I didn’t even consider taking my blindfold off, I didn’t want to ruin the experience. Good experience? Bad experience? I’ll decide later, right now I am just giving myself over to it fully.
And then the end came along. We were asked to stop what we were doing and sit down. The light was turned on, people slowly took the blindfolds off, stretching and blinking their eyes. There were many more people than I had expected.
After the darkness was turned off, Karl Frost, the director, asked us to sit in a circle and say each one word that comes to mind. Darkness. Freedom. Sticky. Loneliness. Happiness. Then we split up into smaller groups, sharing in more detail what we went through. “I am a traitor”, I admitted to those around me, “I have to write about this later, but I swear to god that I didn’t peek!”
When the darkness, the talking, the confessions and the exposure were over, I exited to the neon lit streets of Tel Aviv, and walked to my car alone. The cars, neon lights, clubs, men, and the looks they gave me, were all much scarier than the eye opening darkness of Axolotl.
Click here for original text in Hebrew