A Dance of Love and Death: The US Premiere of Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor’s ‘The Third Dance’

Words by Candice Thompson | Images by Efrat Mazor

Once you have seen Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor’s intimate duet The Third Dance, it is impossible to unsee the final scene. On a stage littered with broken flowers, the two men slow danced to the song “Forever Young” (by 80’s synth pop band Alphaville).  Nude, except for haunting rubber masks that turned them into elderly versions of themselves, they held each other and swayed.

This U.S. premiere was presented as part of an evening with Core Dance at 7Stages in Atlanta, in a program that also featured the return of Sheinfeld and Laor’s American Playground. The two works were similar in terms of the wide spectrum of emotional ground they covered: leaping from the funny to the absurdly funny to the absurdly beautiful and deeply melancholic. American Playground, which was choreographed for Core Dance in 2016 in an active collaboration with the dancers, dazzled with gymnastic singing (“The Star-Spangled Banner” sung from a backbend) and a strain of desperate striving  that was at times hard to watch, and yes, impossible to look away from. PhaeMonae Brooks, as a sassy emcee, and Anna Bracewell Crowder, as a dancer obsessed with a Kitri variation from the ballet Don Quixote, along with the entire cast, were captivating. It was clear that material this quirky had to be derived from the personal stories of the cast. And yet, their deft performances took it well beyond biography twisted into performance art.

Much of the same could be said of The Third Dance. Though the duet was their second dance inspired by and in conversation with the work of Liat Dror and Nir Ben Gal, my ignorance of this Israeli dance history did not impede the deep impact Sheinfeld and Laor made. Long-time partners both onstage and off, they buttered the audience up with all kinds of antics and scenes of domesticity: casual moments of arranging a bouquet of flowers, playing Elton John records, and singing into a rose-turned-microphone were tempered with hysterical episodes of pleading “Do you love me?” and shredding every flower until the floor was covered in petals, the most romantic of all confettis. Their bodies sliced and lunged and squatted and swept across the space. Their knowledge of when to tease and when to retreat, when to come together and when to be still and alone, much less their use and abuse of props to the fullest, created a structure that made it possible for the pair to really go there, to lay bare some simple truths underlying their moves.

Forever young

I want to be forever young

Do you really want to live forever?

Forever, and ever

As the lights went dark to this reprise, the power of the moment rippled through the audience, seated both in risers on one side and around the perimeter of the stage. Their final, naked embrace was not just a beautiful gesture of a lasting love (tinged with dark humor and dripping with pathos), nor was it simply a perfect ending to a real-life love story portrayed with magnanimous style onstage. Though of course, it was both of these things. It was also a complicated victory lap: should you be lucky enough to grow old with the one you love, you will both still do just that, grow old and die.

Were they dancing as themselves as old men or were they dancing as themselves as middle-aged men practicing for this later stage of life? Coming as it did after an evening of hilarious, self-aware, and highly vocal dance theater, it felt impossible to really know. I left 7Stages suspended in the surreal in-between this dance created, where all projections for the future — hopes, fears, and anxieties — merged seamlessly with both the joys and regrets of the past and that most ineffable present.

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