Kinder! Kirche! Küche!
I attended the BodyTraffic performance of the work of Barak Marshall at the Bovard Auditorium at USC March 27th. The opening piece was Adir Adirim, an excerpt from his 2008 show Monger. Mr. Marshall explained that one of the influences was Jean Genet’s Les Bonnes and it showed as the female dancers were objectified and leered upon by the barely moving male dancers. The Masters versus the Maids, the powerless chafing under a restrictive dominion. All of the energy was produced by the women, the prey. This portrayal of women, the Female was continued throughout the entire show.
It became apparent that the treatment of the women within the choreography typified the European Jewish experience before, during and after WWII. The costuming reflected the times as the men were dressed in garb of those years and the women wore minimalist versions of the traditional dirndl. Elements of Tango and Bollywood reinforced the subservience of the females on stage. There was also play with modern Jewish stereotypes of women: the castrating, idle Jewish American Princess, the antithesis of the Hausfrau. Several of the pieces portrayed the women as animalistic in both demeanor and thought as well as utterly powerless without male attention, protection. The use of animal imagery brought to mind the Nazi propaganda movies depicting Jews as rats and the use of cattle cars to the camps.
Cuisine as metaphor was also utilized. Three women played dumb as three men talked of animals and their delectable preparation again eluding to ovens, slaughter and an indifference to plight, and again undergirding the women as hapless and in need of care. A humorous nod to Yiddish Theater and the Borscht Belt, which were raucous, interactive and course affairs, came as the female dancers bickered and castigated the audience. This droll moment actually just underlined the voicelessness of the women as they could not be heard.
There was also an interesting, yet somewhat disjointed fusion of commentary from Margalit Oved. She is from Aden and thusly of the Shepardic Jewish tradition which is different from the Ashkanazi tradition of Eastern Europe and the Jews to confront the Holocaust at home. Her masterful use of ululation was a conduit through which the two traditions were married, the European temperament of the performance and that of modern Israel in a hostile Middle East. Art and Identity transcending direct experience.
The final number was Danke Schoen. This song is redolent of the post-war German Economic Miracle and the American presence in West Germany. It encapsulates the exuberance of the reconstruction and a forward future focus. It is most associated with Wayne Newton and Las Vegas so that made for an amusing and smaltzy choice. Other than that song, the music could be peripatetic, then brooding. A grand melange of culture influences well considered.
The production itself was a soupçon amateurish. During the post-performance discussion, Mr. Marshall mentioned that the show was conceived three years prior and that one of the dancers did not even begin practice yet one week before the show. The skill of the choreographer and the dancers’ tore through the repetitive nature of some the the hand gestures and the lack of synchronicity within the corps. The raw talent could and should be further honed. The story as well seemed blunt and facile. It is still quite interesting that Jewish artists still harken back to The Holocaust to mine for meaning and identity generations afterwards. Mr. Marshall also mentioned Marc Chagall and that was apt as one Jewish artist, as interloper, as wanderer sought inspiration from another. The church bell chimes apropos in the Gothic drippings of the Bovard Auditorium. An evocative water color, an amorphous symbiosis between the two.