YAG – The Movie: transforming genetic memory through dance

November 22, 2020

Sarah-Mace Dennis

The bodies in Batsheva Dance Company’s YAG – The Movie, really, really love to dance. This is clear from the very first frame, where a woman sways hypnotically. The shot cuts in and we are drenched by the pull of her ecstatic gaze. Floating around are pieces of her identity: an unshaved armpit, an erect nipple under a skin-coloured blouse, cheeks that are doused in the pleasure of the movement.

The FamilyStanding: Igor Ptashenchuk (left) and Yoni SimonSitting and kneeling (from left): Londiwe Khoza, Yael Ben Ezer, Hani Sikris, Sean HowePhoto Ascaf
YAG – The Movie
The Family
Standing: Igor Ptashenchuk (left) and Yoni Simon
Sitting and kneeling (from left): Londiwe Khoza,
Yael Ben Ezer, Hani Sikris and Sean Howe
Photo Ascaf

“My name is Hani,” she says, words drifting in white text across the screen. “I have a brother and a sister.” The black space between the words and her body evokes all the words, all the movements that cannot be spoken.

Around Hani other bodies gaze towards the arcane, their figures trapped in the afterglow of her pull.

“My sister’s name is Londiwe, my brother’s name is Sean,” she continues. “My family loved, really really loved to dance.” Everybody falls. The sound of knees hitting the floor.

Now the family are grouped together and posing for their portrait. Although some of their attire has been extracted from different parts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, other features are undoubtably more contemporary.

In their book, A Thousand Plateaus, philosophers Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari note that, “We know nothing of a body until we know what it can do.” For Ohad Naharin, choreographer of YAG – The Movie, it seems we know nothing of a body until we know how it can move.

Speaking openly about his affection for movement, Naharin describes dancing as an act of embodied listening that arouses intense sensations, animal states and heightened modes awareness. His gaga practice encourages dancers to let go of habitual routines, enticing them to dance in ways that explode the familiar patterns that characterise their movement.

Expressing Naharin’s choreographic utterances through complex configurations of slowness and speed, the dancers in YAG The Movie, remind us that we know nothing of a family until we examine how it moves. These movements, like the conflicted historical periods that patch together their attire, reveal that this family, like the vibrations of the bodies that give it life, is not always expressed through easily mirrored steps or pre-defined genetic structures. This family, like the dance that arouses it, is elusive, rhythmic and conflicted. It is a family whose collective embodiment both comforts and haunts its members. This is a family that moves together and unfolds.

Londiwe Khoza (left) and Yael Ben Ezer in YAG - The MoviePhoto Ascaf
Londiwe Khoza (left) and Yael Ben Ezer in YAG – The Movie
Photo Ascaf

Yoni, in deep blue pyjamas, has three grandchildren and a daughter, Yael. Appearing in the maroon slip beside him she draws fragmented, fluid gestures with her arms and torso; embodied lines that bind her consciousness to the family history that has just been disclosed. When the camera frames his trembling head and torso, the sweat dripping from his face, it evokes a time and place far beyond this moment.

This sense, that movement exists both inside and outside bodies and the events that motivate them, informs the patterns of chaos and order expressed by Batsheva as they articulate and let go of Naharin’s performance score. Lying inside Yael’s arms, Igor, in a brown suit, tells us he has three children and a wife who is… Pushing her fingers across his lips, she violently traps his words and breath.  Later, in front of the orange door that illuminates the darkened stage, Yael confesses that it is her husband who is dead. Dressing in Igor’s suit, she remembers their three children and how they loved, really, really loved to dance.

Yael Ben Ezer and Londiwe Khoza (standing) in YAG - The MoviePhoto Ascaf
Yael Ben Ezer and Londiwe Khoza (standing) in YAG – The Movie
Photo Ascaf

Then the door is on top of Igor’s dead body, and everyone intimately and violently unfolds: the lines drawn by their movements framing and exploding everything we thought we knew about this family, everything we understood about family relations.

In Towards Mathilde, Claire Denis’ film about choreographer and stage director Mathilde Monnier, philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy observes that the joy of watching dance is that, “Even if you don’t know how to dance, you can feel the dance in your body as an audience.” The embodied resonance that can be felt when watching live performance is often hard to translate to the space of the screen.

YAG – The Movie is no ordinary dance film. Although technically a film of a performance, it performs the difficult task of letting go of the limitations of cinematic form, allowing the audience to really connect with the emotional language that moves across the stage. These bodies aren’t just dancing, they are expressing the inexpressible sensations of genetic memory, familial relationships, of moving together and apart. They remind us of the new types of embodiment that are formed not only when we dance, but also when we really, really love.