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A line forms as the last spectators file into the cozy studio. One by one, each person is asked to remove his shoes, stand on a stool and place his head in a small hole above. "Can you see?" asks an assistant dressed in brown rags. I nod, wondering what standing on a stool could possibly have to do with seeing a dance performance.
As the lights dim, everyone obediently takes a seat on the stool he has been assigned. Curiosity and anticipation fill the air. In front of us, an unusual stage with caged holes stands about halfway between the ceiling and the floor.
"Please take your stools and choose a place to sit beneath the stage," says another assistant, also dressed in earth-toned rags.
The small audience follows directions, glancing around at each other to see the reactions of their fellow spectators with nervous grins and shrugs of the shoulder.
"Please take your stool to a marked spot beneath the stage and take a seat," announces a dancer. We do as we are told. "Stand up on your stools and put your heads in the holes." Again, we follow orders, looking through the stage at each others' heads with quizzical nods.
Suddenly, the dancers arrive on stage, towering above us. As they begin to gracefully move around the metallic bulbs, the smell of their sweat and the sound of their feet and hands sliding across the floor is tangible. Inches from my head, they roll and slither, fixing individuals with their piercing glances.
Aside from the inverted stage view and constantly changing points of view, there is yet another perspective. A projector screens the live audience as they watch both the show and themselves. The boundaries are blurred. The lines are fuzzy. Who is watching who? I wonder.
And the answer is that everyone is on stage, including the audience members. The traditional separation between spectator and spectacle disappears, leaving a multimedia experience that questions conventions.
"We wanted to play with the relationship between performers and the audience. We wanted to push the limits and open up new possibilities," says Noa Dar, the choreographer who collaborated with plastic artist Natty Shamia-Ofer to create Tetris, which was featured in the 2006 Acre Festival for Alternative Theater. Dar says that Tetris is a unique architectonic object that creates a world at once penetrated and penetrable.
This innovative experiment is the most major break with tradition that Dar has ever dared to create. "This is my furthest departure from past work, and it was challenging because the choreography is completely different when you view the dancers close-up versus when you see them from a distance. In this creation, the audience has a 360 degree view, and every angle has to be considered, not like the usual frontal perspective," says Dar.
BORN ON Kibbutz Deganya, Dar started dancing when she was eight and decided to become a professional dancer when she was 13. "At 16, I went to Jerusalem to study at the Rubin Academy for Music and Dance. It was the only one in Israel at that time," she says, sitting cross-legged on a chair in the studio's courtyard in Tel Aviv. As we talk about her work, she occasionally glances behind her at a group of workers noisily making repairs to the stage. "We built this stage especially for Tetris. It's not a standard stage," she explains, keeping a close eye on one young man with a particularly unruly hammer.
Dar started her career with the Bat Sheva Dance Company, where she danced for two years. Since then, she has performed and choreographed productions all over the world. "I wanted to go to New York, and after I got the grant from Merce Cunningham, I went for a few years and danced and studied there."
Upon her return, Dar helped found the Tamar Dance Company. "That was where I really started to choreograph because our premise was to not have a single artistic director but to all work together in collaborative pieces." After three years, Dar went to Paris for two years to dance and study. This time, when she returned, she started work on her own creations.
In 2000, she was hired by the Holon Municipality to create performances, including one a year for children. "Dance for children is another world, and that opened up new experiences for me and was a learning process," Dar says. After five years in Holon, Dar started to search for a studio of her own.
"I got a grant from the America Israel Cultural Foundation, and I found a home in Tel Aviv in 2006. I started choreographing creations for festivals all over the world with my dance troupe. We've been to dance and theater festivals in Japan, Korea, Europe, and Portugal." Until recently, Dar did not have a permanent home, and Tetris is the first production of her own in the new studio.
Dar says she wanted to create a work that would include audience participation. "Today's world is so interactive. There is involvement and change in every game we play, everywhere we go. Tetris is a response to how society is now," she explains.
To encourage maximum audience participation, the spectators are constantly offered choices - where to sit, where to look and where to stand. "You can't see everything from the perspective we give you, so each individual has to decide what to watch when, and where to stand. This is part of what builds the experience - the element of choice."
Dar's inspiration for this departure came from both a deep reaction to the standard "positions" of watcher and watched and the reality of life in today's world. "I wanted an interaction with life, not just with virtual screens. Reality shows are constantly exposing people in their private lives, and giving the media permission to invade. I was playing with this and trying to renew the experience of real life, touches and smells instead of screens."
She also wanted to explore psychological elements and challenge people to examine their own boundaries with intimacy. "Each person stands in his own hole and the dancers get very close and stare intentionally. For some people, the intimacy is overwhelming. Some people feel too exposed. But no matter what, people have strong reactions. An Internet forum to discuss reactions to Tetris has even been proposed."
The production has been overwhelming for Dar, who attends every performance. "I don't know where to go from here. Where do you go after such a creation?" she asks.
After completing such a huge, collaborative work that involved the seven dancers in her company, musicians and a plastic artist, Dar says that returning to working alone is helping her stay focused. "I haven't performed in seven or eight years, and right now I'm going back to the basics, back to the language of my own body."
Before starting to work on the next piece, she says she will give herself the time she needs to recover and replenish. "Tetris was perfect for my own studio because it's a small, intimate production and only 69 people can see it at one time. But in the future, I don't know where things will be performed. I don't know what the next production holds, but we're hoping that foundation grants will allow us to take Tetris abroad."
Tetris will be performed on April 19, 20 and 21 in the Noa Dar Studio on Rehov Kaplan in Tel Aviv. For more information, visit www.noadar.com.