by Martha Sherman
The old saw is right: never work with children or animals onstage – they’ll upstage you. Happily, in Anna Azrieli’s “Mirror Furor,” her very talented and poised nine-year-old child, Ezra Azrieli Holtzman, was able to keep up in a cast of four that mirrored, played, suffered and laughed together in a braid of meandering, shifting relationships.
In an opening that was purposely imprecise, the audience, was advised to wander around the floor before sitting, wasn’t sure when the performance actually started. Azrieli and Ezra wandered among us, both in red tunics, and Ezra scribbled designs on Azrieli’s legs in marker. When the lights (by Madeline Best) dimmed and we sat, the performers moved in an out of the open door to their dressing room, half seen, still preparing. Tall Massimiliano Balduzzi hummed a repeating tune with half-heard lyrics as he sat putting on sneakers. And Ezra swept the floor, read for a while, then leaned against a door jamb, half attending, half distracted, feet resting against the door’s edge. One by one, the players each banged a rhythm on one of the pipes standing in the space, and Eleanor Smith laid four index cards in a circle in the center of the space. All seemed to be the final stage management preparation for the show, but organically, without boundaries or separations, the performance had begun.
Azrieli is a serious artist, and her movement and performance vocabulary can be punishing. She was the first soloist in a parade of four solos, and the image was harrowing. Standing downstage and staring ahead, she hitched her loose dance top up to reveal her upper body, and tortuously moved her abs and the muscles around her ribs into a deep cavern, sucking in and rolling the muscles in bizarre, uneven contortions. It was powerful and painful. The other three dancers followed with their own solos, each writhing until exhausted, including Ezra who joined the diagonal line of with his own frantic body wriggles, young and small in an a grown-up dance.
As demanding as that scene was, it was couched in movements that ranged from thought-provoking to silly and surprising. The flow among these moods and partnerships, moving together and then melting away, were neither jagged nor disconnected. They weren’t discrete scenes, but one teasing thread. The magic of the work was its ability to offer this range of experience, fluidly and convincingly.
Shifting dancer pairs were the mirrors of the title – Azrieli paired Smith in one of the funniest duets of the show. Smith sat in a balance on the floor, and began to jiggle her thighs, accompanying herself with a deadpan drone “Jiggle, jiggle, jiggle.” (It was hard not to hear Woody Guthrie croon “Jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle; tickle tickle tickle tickle; little sack o’ sugar I could eat you up.”) Jiggling thighs and body parts – not something most dancers go out of their way to show – became the theme of Smith and Azrieli’s duet, as they mirrored each others’ jiggles, creating marvelous movement patterns. Performance jiggling translated to audience giggling.
All four performers were often on stage, but only two were together in a mirrored connection. We lost sight of dancers as they moved down the stairs or into the open dressing room, only to emerge (or be dragged back) into our consciousness. Balduzzi and Ezra had been wandering during the jiggling duet, but came back to center as all four laid down in a starburst pattern, heads in the center. They lifted the index cards that had been placed there, and in a quick sing-song, they repeated jiggle synonyms and word partners; they were now a quartet.
Back and forth, mixed and matched, they met in a segment of the stage. In one scene, Ezra stood behind Azrieli and mimicked her. In another, they wandered upstage together to stand, their back toward the audience in a particularly tender mother/child image, looking into the large well that is one of many unique features of the Chocolate Factory performing space.
Ezra anchored the other two sweetly funny duets. In a delicious interchange with Balduzzi, Ezra moaned aloud the names of Italian foods, in an exaggerated Italian accent (“Tortellini. Tiramisu. Gnocchi,”) cradled in Balduzzi’s arms, while Azrieli and Smith moved in a slowing morphing mirror exercise, a leg lifted slowly, arms reaching in perfect reflections. When the quartet changed partners, Balduzzi and Azrieli danced their mirrored moves upstage, as Ezra and Smith carefully carried water trays downstage, laid on their bellies, and sprayed each other with gleeful abandon.
In addition to allowing themselves to be entirely upstaged by their junior colleague, the three adult dancers all seemed content to press their silly buttons as hard as they did their disciplined buttons. “Mirror Furor” was not a joke, though it was very funny. It was, instead, an honest offering of movement, relationships, and unique individual contributions. You never cross the same river twice, Azrieli seemed to remind us about relationships, for it’s not the same river, and you are not the same person.
copyright © 2017 by Martha Sherman
“Mirror Furor” – Anna Azrieli
The Chocolate Factory, Long Island City, NY
February 23, 2017
Cover: Anna Azrieli in “Mirror Furor.” © Brian Rogers.
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