Anyone who has ever had a pet can remember the day the animal left this world.
For many, the loss feels as devastating as the loss of a loved one. When Laurie Anderson’s dog passed away, she mourned his passing deeply. She commemorated the event in an album and a later film called Heart of a Dog, in which she also marked the departure of her husband, Lou Reed, and her mother.
For Eyal Nahum, choreographer and dancer, Heart of a Dog resounded monumentally.
“Four years ago,” says Nahum, “I made a piece called Letters to a Dog. Our dog, who we had raised for 18 years, died. When I think about death, it is the lack of movement that comes to mind.
But when I remembered our dog, I remembered the way she jumped, the way she wagged her tail… In the piece, I brought together those two things – death and movement.”
Letters to a Dog also drew heavily on the “No Manifesto” formulated by American choreographer Yvonne Rainer.
“I loved the personality of it. I loved the way that the modernists could write these big statements, all the no’s of them. That became a seminal part of the work,” he says.
Around the same time, Nahum came upon Anderson’s album.
“I was somehow relieved to discover that someone else had dedicated a piece to a dog. The album consists of texts about her dog. When I first heard it, I was very disappointed. I listened to it many times after, and it became the most moving disc in my collection,” he says.
As a younger man, Nahum had worked with music by Anderson as a member of Bat Dor Dance Company in a piece by Hans Van Manen.
“I felt that I had to let Laurie guide me in this process. I built a kind of narrative using her texts, about losing loved ones, about the necessity of love moving forward,” he explains.
This weekend, Nahum will premiere his newest creation, Love Must Go On, with the Jerusalem Dance Theater.
Nahum has been in the dance world for as long as he can remember. He began as a member of the Bat Dor Dance Company and went on to dance in Switzerland. Back in Israel, he collaborated with several major companies and choreographers.
Tall, muscular and charismatic, Nahum stood out easily from his peers on and off stage. His first choreography, which he made in the mid-1990s as part of a dancers’ evening in Bat Dor, was dedicated to a friend who was killed during his army service.
“Looking back, I think death is certainly something I’ve grappled with throughout the years,” he says.
From Letters to a Dog, Nahum continued to delve into Anderson’s work, extracting the theme for Love Must Go On.
“After all, the point of her album was that even in the face of all the loss, love has to continue,” he says.
Into this work, Nahum wove his experience of new life, the birth of his triplets. Born nearly three years ago, Nahum and his partner’s three children have reorganized their parents’ life.
“Here, I could bring my world of parenting to the stage,” says Nahum.
The piece brings many vibrant images to the stage; for one, a zebra.
“My dancers always ask why there’s a zebra in there. I find the zebra to be so intriguing. I love that it has a female presence, perhaps because the word ‘zebra’ is feminine in Hebrew. It is an embodiment of motherly love. And also, whenever we go to the safari with our kids, we always pay attention to the zebras. They stand out,” he explains.
Nahum was careful to give Anderson the stage she deserved.
This translates into somewhat minimalist choreography, with a heavy emphasis on the text from Anderson’s album.
“I didn’t want to alter what she did. I wanted to understand her and see how I could add to what she created, how I could enrich it.
I wanted to be in a true collaboration with her, even though we don’t know each other,” he says.
The Jerusalem Dance Theater will present ‘Love Must Go On’ and ‘Letters to a Dog’ on July 23 at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv.
For more information, visit www.suzannedellal.org.il.