In their American Dance Festival debut of “Come Jump With Me,” Yossi Berg and Olivia Court Mesa embody hope, horror and sometimes even humor in their tour de force performance. Their extreme physicality and emotional depth convey the challenges of life in today’s Israel.
Set in the Nasher Museum of Art’s atrium, this 65-minute work by Yossi Berg & Oded Graf Dance Theatre, begins as Berg and Mesa, sitting in chairs, take turns speaking out.
“Do you believe in God?” she says.
“There’s no future here,” he says.
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“I see blood,” he says.
“I can’t relax. A terrorist is entering my house. I’m afraid to die,” she says.
In one of the work’s themes, Berg acts the role of a soldier.
He holds an imaginary gun, points, and simulates shooting; at one point, we hear machine gun fire.
In his last portrayal, he has a maniacal gleam in his blue eyes as he coldly says: “I am a soldier and I shoot people I don’t like.”
Berg and Mesa also act as victims, repeatedly doubling over, as though shot, and then collapsing.
Manic behavior shows the extent to which their characters have been traumatized such as when Berg laughs hysterically as she rolls on the floor and repeatedly says “There’s no place like home.”
Their marathon jump-roping seems a way of dealing with these stresses. Berg jump-ropes solo then the two, with separate jump ropes, perform double-time rhythms in perfect sync until their faces turn red and their breathing labored.
At times, with false bravado, they appear sunnily optimistic. After Mesa attaches a golden Mylar sun to the backdrop labeled “SKY,” they both say: “The sun is out. It’s going to be a beautiful day.”
The attaching of the “sun,” also draws some laughs from the audience. In another oddly funny moment, Berg rolls along the taped border of the performance space and pulls the white tape off in such a way that it wraps around his torso and provides a sling for his left arm.
At times both performers repeatedly run up to the edge of the stage and suddently halt as if their escape is foiled.
A dream of escape is voiced early on by Berg: “Let’s pretend we are on a tropical island surrounded by ocean. Just you and I.”
Finally, at the end of this work, they make their “escape” as Berg puts on a tropical shirt and picks up a kayak paddle. Then, they both sit, she behind him, their legs straight as they move on their buttocks to propel their “kayak.” For a moment, they look blissfully happy.