A lion's mask that conceals the beast within [p.24]

Yasmeen Godder 'I'm Mean I Am' Suzanne Dellal Center December 27 In the opening scene of her latest work, I'm Mean I Am, choreographer Yasmeen Godder arrives on stage wearing a life-size mask of a lion baring its teeth. But soon it becomes clear that people - with or without masks - are the ones we should beware of. Under the right circumstances, even the most innocent social games can turn into a nightmare. One of the country's most acclaimed choreographers, Godder has received a lot of international attention in recent years, particularly since she won a New York Dance and Performance Award in 2001. Most of her works are small in scale, but they're all extremely intense, giving a challenging workout to both performers' bodies and audience members' minds. Godder's unique contribution to dance as both a performer and creator is the combined creativity and elusiveness that define her works - a contribution that made her latest premiere an event no Israeli dance connoisseur wanted to miss. But high expectations can be a double-edged sword, and Godder's latest work fell short in satisfying them. The main culprit - or culprits - were the performers who accompanied Godder on stage, none of whom were equal to her either technically or in terms of stage presence. This proved a particularly crucial shortcoming for I'm Mean I Am, because the work focuses so intently on the changing alliances, swift mood swings and fraying power balances that are meant to shift control between Godder and her three dancers. The stage for I'm Mean I Am resembles a rehearsal studio - a human lab in disguise - where Godder and her group work on new material, appearing to improvise their movements as they explore the piece's central theme. A plot evolves on three levels, with Godder examining her own deep, dark corners while wearing the lion's mask. The relationships between the dancers become more complex by the minute, with Godder and her performers exploring fear, submissiveness and even sexual arousal in relation to the dominance of another person. But what started as playful provocation ultimately ended in movements that resembled sexual assault and human degradation, an artistic choice by Godder that drew an emotional response - and not necessarily a positive one - from her audience. None of the choreographer's previous works have been so obvious or lent themselves so readily to shallow interpretation - a disappointment coming from such a distinguished homegrown artist.