Dance review: Obsessive, compulsive, L-E-V’s performance flawless and alienating

OCD Love is at the National Arts Centre. Photo: Regina Brocke

With its emphasis on repetition and ritual, it’s no wonder that dance attracts people with OCD tendencies. The notion of  “practice makes perfect” feeds the disorder, rewarding and punishing in equal measure.

For their newest creation, OCD Love, Israeli dance company L-E-V turned to a Neil Hilborn poem about a fascinating but ultimately toxic relationship. In Hilborn’s text, the narrator describes how his lover is initially seduced by his odd behaviour — flicking the light switch over and over, kissing her a prescribed number of times — before he eventually drives her away. Rather than portray the narrative described in the poem, L-E-V co-directors Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar have taken the manic tics and stammerings of the words themselves and turned them into pure kinetic energy.

The work, which had its Ottawa premiere Thursday night at the NAC, opens with a female dancer alone on a bare stage. She writhes and gyrates, self-torturing, rotating in on herself like the stuck gears of a broken clock as Ori Lichtik’s techno score skitters and thumps in the background. She is joined by a male dancer; he stalks around her, preening narcissistically and flexing his muscles like an old-time carnival strongman.

Eventually all six dancers — two women and four men, wearing slinky black bodysuits and shorts — are on stage enacting their personal obsessions. The dance vocabulary is extraordinary in its variety and technical virtuosity: legs and feet execute frantic, classically pointed tendus, battements and ronds de jambes, while everything from the waist up is flailing around in all directions. Then the beat shifts and we get a campy chorus line, or a kind of shuffling, turning merengue pattern done in unison. There are deep pliés on demi-pointe, sudden explosive jumps, extreme penchés straining past 180 degrees.

The pace is relentless, the execution flawless. But despite the sweat and the heat, the emotion is cold and alienating. The interactions between the dancers imply carnality without sensuality, sex without tenderness. It feels at times like watching tigers at the zoo: the animals are beautiful, impressive, powerful. But there is no freedom or joy in their pacing. Perhaps this was Eyal and Behar’s intention. OCD can be a prison, a wall of rituals built for safety and protection, but serving only to isolate.

The performance repeats Friday night.

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Natasha Gauthier has been covering classical music in Canada and the US for more than 20 years. She was the classical critic at the Ottawa Citizen, and was one of the founding critics of Montreal's HOUR Magazine. She has served on the classical music and dance juries for the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards. You can also read her at her blog, Natasha has a BA in Journalism from Concordia University.