Obstacles are things we overcome, skirt around, conquer and manage to rise above. For Olympic athletes, hurdles must be quickly calculated and overtaken in order to continue the sprint to the finish line.
But what if instead of focusing on the road, we focused on the bumps in it? This question is at the center of Danish choreographer Palle Granhoj’s creative process. A staunch practitioner of a method called obstruction technique, Granhoj choreographs by investigating what happens when dancers meet insurmountable physical hardship.
Granhoj will return to Israel this weekend with his company Granhoj Dans to perform as part of the annual Tel Aviv Dance festival at the Suzanne Dellal Center. The troupe, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, will present two evenings, Dance Me to the End On/Off Love and Men and Mahler.
Both pieces, explained Granhoj in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, were generated using obstruction technique.
“My connection with this method started way back when I met an American choreographer named Nancy Spanier, who was teaching her way of obstruction to actors in a theater piece. I liked it and knew I wanted to know more about it,” Granhoj said.
In 1989, when Granhoj set up shop in Aarhus, Denmark, he was at the beginning of a beautiful friendship with obstruction.
“I had been choreographing for several years in a more traditional way at that point. The idea is you have a dancer doing a phrase, and you ask another dancer to interfere. The obstructer will try to hold the hand of the dancer while they attempt to execute the movements fully. You can then have another dancer hold the other hand. It continues until the dancer is in a state of total obstruction.
It changes everything about the movement, the emotional, contextual and physical elements. I always ask myself why the dancer continues to attempt to do the movement fully in the face of all the interference. I think the answer is that you cannot stop the heart. That is the core of everything that I do. It is a method, a technique and a philosophy,” he said.
The last time Granhoj Dans visited Israel, they presented a work called 8IQ No Woman No Cry, which featured eight female dancers. This weekend, Men and Mahler will offer the masculine perspective of the company.
“I wanted to research how far you can go if you use the power of the man’s muscle for obstruction,” said Granhoj.
The music is a collage of excerpts from Mahler’s symphonic pieces, handpicked by Granhoj over the course of years of research. To counter the testosterone of the dancers, Granhoj added a female voice, in the form of a singer, to the scene.
“If there is someone that goes into the man’s world, it should be a woman.
She sees what men do when they are alone and describes what she sees and how she understands it to the audience,” he explained.
The piece includes nudity and is considered one of Granhoj’s more provocative works.
Dance Me to the End On/Off Love is as a celebration of Leonard Cohen’s songs and poetry.
“I discovered that Cohen’s basic creative work was about longing. All the feelings in his poetry emerge from longing. I found similarity in his work to mine, to the longing generated by obstruction technique,” said Granhoj.
“At one point, I decided that Cohen was too big for me to take on; but then I found myself longing to return to him.
And so I did.”
The process for this piece began with a small scene in a larger work.
“Many years ago, I choreographed a solo for a dancer in the company to ‘Dance Me to the End of Love.’ Years later the dancer was diagnosed with brain cancer. He called me, after we hadn’t worked together for a long time, and asked if I could create one last dance for him before he died. I based the piece on that scene. I performed the solo in the church at his funeral. At the time, I hadn’t been on stage for 17 years. The experience was very powerful for me,” the choreographer recounted.
Granhoj Dans will perform Dance Me to the End On/Off Love on May 10 at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Men and Mahler will be performed on May 11 at 9 p.m. and May 12 at 7 p.m. For more information, visit ww.suzannedellal.org.il.