L-E-V in Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart

National Theater, Taipei
March 10, 2023

Sharon Eyal is one of those choreographers whose work is identifiable within seconds. Typically, the dancers (here seven although the number does vary) in Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart are propelled by musician and DJ Ori Lichtik’s shifting electronic techno music, although here fused with popular songs, through a feverish, pulsating, visceral dance in which salsa, voguing, rave and clubbing run up against balletic moments and more.

As the title suggests, what is the final instalment of her and creative partner Gai Behar’s choreographic trilogy focuses on broken relationships. The programme note, 29 single words, tells us what to expect. “Dryness. Emptiness. Fear… Coldness. Eyes. Intension. Impulse…” Most are there. Most are easily visible. And yet, as much as the dancing, the intensity and clarity of the performers was to be admired, as much as at times it evoked kinaesthetic empathy (a real rarity for me with Eyal’s work), it remained cool and aloof.

The work is loaded with Eyal’s very individual dance vocabulary, although its pace and intensity are a few notches down from that of the preceding OCD Love and Love Chapter 2, the former in particular.

L-E-V in Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart
Photo Stefan Dotter for Dior

In many ways it’s a dance of opposites. Hands grasp at necks and chins, and frame faces, in quite a human way. But elsewhere the dancers’ extreme posture, backs arched, ribcages open, arms thrown back, suggests something rather more animal. There is height through Eyal’s trademark use of long sections on high demi pointe, but also grounded sequences, notably to a bluesey number, and some deep pliés. The movement is sometimes intriguingly fluid in the torso but angular and sharp in the arms. Whatever, it is always precise and accurate.

Apart from the opening, when the dancers slowly gather, all are on stage for the show’s entire 50 minutes. They are seriously terrific.

Frequently in unison, they shift in ever changing formations. From time to time, interrupting the work’s heartbeat, one or two break away briefly, letting us see something of them as individuals before returning. It’s easy to make connections with the other part of the programme note, a quotation from Hanya Yanagihara’s novel, A Little Life, which speaks about damage and loss, and how things sometimes get repaired and life rearranges itself.

Despite the broken quality of the movement, the opening minutes do have a sort of harmony about them. Then, from nowhere, as a song gives way to Lichtik’s electronica, a tension emerges. There’s a sense of pain and anguish. Love and togetherness falling apart again, no doubt.

L-E-V in Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart
Photo Stefan Dotter for Dior

Only twice do break-outs feel like true duets, once when two of the men move away, and one extended dance for Keren Lurie Pardes and Danaa Pjarillaga stand out. But even here, their meeting is more about physical movement than emotion. A huge factor in that is the almost total absence of eye contact. Whether in a duet or group, each dancer seems to be in their own world, on their own island.

I suspect the venue didn’t help in it not reaching out and touching too. It did all look rather lost and distant in the vastness of the National Theater. I can’t help imagining how much better the viewing experience would be in a smaller, more intimate venue, or if there were seventeen dancers not seven.

Later, the ensemble sometimes gathers in in pulsing clump of bodies, although usually with one person clearly at its centre.

The dancers’ tight fitting gender-neutral, flesh toned body suits are stunning. Designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri of Christian Dior Couture, and incorporating drawings of all kinds of plants and with a striking blood-red heart on the chest, they look like all-over tattoos. But what a shame the distance and lighting meant that the detail was only really visible at the curtain call.

The super dancers certainly make Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart an engaging journey. It has always interesting movement and structure. But while it assuredly hints at the ups and especially the downs of love, the heart and human relations, it does increasingly disappear into the abstract. It also never really goes anywhere, although perhaps that’s the point. Love, the heart, never stops being broken and repaired.