Visceral, cerebral, and utterly captivating, Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor’s Art Attack is a wild and wonderful lovefest manifesto. Created during the pandemic, it is inevitably of its time, yet also timeless. Surging with energy, the work incorporates texts written by artists, musicians, writers, architects and rebels, merging words with an exuberant soundtrack and intense, exhilarating physicality. Suffused with joy, spiked with humor, and the pleasure of movement, Art Attack celebrates the power of art to connect and create community; it’s a call to arms, an inspiration and a warning, a paean to art in all its forms.
As restrictions on indoor gatherings shut down theatres (although Sheinfeld and Laor continued to perform free, outdoor performances) for many, perhaps most people in the audience, this was the first dance performance they had seen in over a year. The excitement was palpable. When the audience entered the performance space of Tmuna Theatre on April 29, 2021, the dancers – Tal Adler Arieli, Roni Chadash, Oren Laor, Niv Sheinfeld – clad in dark blue worker’s overalls, stood on short, square, wooden footstools, slowly turning in ever-changing poses. Prayer, protest, grace, surrender and wonder were embodied in turn in the eloquence of their bodies, hands, and gaze. The inexorably slow movement in complex relation to the pulsing beat of the music was charged with emotion. The dancers’ presence was an intimation of something eternal, an endless process that began long before we entered the theatre, long before we were born, and will go on long after we are gone.
Then, with a small smile, as if to let the audience know – we’re in this together – Oren stepped down from the pedestal, and taking the mic, said: “In this period of change, the role of the creative artist can only be that of the revolutionary.” Although he quoted the painter Constant Niewuwenhuys, and attributed the quote, the words felt immediate, spontaneous, arising from that moment in time. He invited the audience to join in and dance from their seats, to reject the passivity of the observer, and experience the performance differently, moving our bodies, thinking with our bodies. The dancers performed onstage: dancing with all the delirious exultation of a crazy party while sitting on the footstools, switching places, connecting with the audience, matching moves and sharing the groove. And that was just the beginning. There was such a feeling of joy in the theatre – I felt that this is what I/we had been yearning for all year long, this is what I believe we so desperately need: the feeling of togetherness, of community, to be lifted up by an art which reaches beyond the mundane and oppressive.
All four dancers are mesmerizing to behold, tantalizing in their inventiveness. There is a strong sense of self-awareness in this work, and an awareness of how easy it is to seduce the eye and mind with muscular sensuality and ethereal grace. This was keenly felt in the irony of their stylized burlesque moves to the sound of PIL (Public Image Ltd) shouting out This Is Not a Love Song. Art Attack is emphatically not a work that seeks to lull audiences into complacent pleasure, but rather shock them awake. Angry, questioning, the work experiments, tests limits, acknowledges dissent; unleashes the fury, the angels, the demons.
As creative artists, Laor and Sheinfeld are constantly exploring and learning, looking inward and outward; a process which is reflected in their work. The dance sequences in Art Attack are interspersed and overlaid throughout with quotations from diverse art manifestos – Claes Oldenburg, Filippo Martinetti, Werner Herzog, Albert Camus, Lebbeus Woods and many more – as the dancers in turn read the texts, noting the author and date. Although this may sound grim, dry and utterly cerebral, the effect in the performance is entirely different. There is an intimacy in the dancers’ relationship to the texts, and although they are read from the page, the words come alive, and feel charged with intention, emotion, rage and humor. A fierce, precise soundtrack is a powerful presence in the work; the sounds, words, and voices of rebellion, from the Smiths to Mozart.
Mortality is a recurring motif in Sheinfeld and Laor’s work, and they contend with it here too, both explicitly and implicitly. Although the work is tightly structured, there are sequences that I felt were improvised, heightening the sense of being present in the moment, and also, the inevitable passing of that moment. These sequences are timed – much as we are all bound by time. Yet this memento mori is also defiantly alive, created in the moment, each performance a different experience. I think Lydia Lunch, one of the musicians quoted in Art Attack, said it best: “I want to glut on everything this bastard planet has to offer before the Prince of Thieves sneaks in to hostage me back to Death’s Other Kingdom, and you better believe I WON’T GO QUIETLY. I WILL DIE AS I HAVE LIVED, KICKING AND SCREAMING WILDLY AGAINST THE VOID. To create is in a sense to cheat Death.”
By Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor
Dancers and co-creators: Tal Adler Arieli, Roni Chadash, Niv Sheinfeld, Oren Laor / Rehearsal manager: Melanie Berson / Artistic Advisor: Nataly Zuckerman / Light Design: Matan Preminger / Music: The Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees, New Order, Fun Boy Three, Talking Heads, Yazoo, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, PIL (Public Image Ltd) / Photos: Efrat Mazor
Information on future performance dates: http://www.nivoren.com