Yossi Berg and Oded Graf Dance Theatre: Come Jump with Me
Monday, July 10–Wednesday, July 12, 7 p.m.
Nasher Museum of Art, Durham

By the end of Yossi Berg and Oded Graf’s Come Jump with Me, the performance space at Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art is littered with spent props, giving it the air of a site where some kind of hard living—an acid trip, a raging party, or maybe a war—has recently taken place.

And in a way, it has. Over the course of an hour, performers Berg and Olivia Court Mesa have moved through an incredible range of moods and activities as they try to bring the audience into their experience of making a life in a place that’s in a perpetual state of war. That place, of course, is Israel, and the country is virtually a third character in the show.

The stage is delineated by masking tape, and over time it becomes clear that the area inside the tape’s jagged lines represents Israel, a place that the performers try to flee but repeatedly fail to escape.

“I can’t raise a child here,” says Mesa at one point, in a state of intense angst. “Reality is too violent. I can’t relax.”

Berg echoes her and tries to console her. And in that moment, the audience enters into their world, one whose inhabitants must simultaneously defend against and prepare for a possible attack while also living and loving and working and relaxing.

But while this is happening, Berg and Mesa are jumping rope in perfect unison. Why? It’s never clear.

That combination—poignant images interspersed with overindulgent moments that muddy the show’s flow—winds up defining the performance. Berg talking about the many times he’s played a soldier in dance pieces? Hits the mark in eliciting a sense of the militarization of Israeli society. Mesa sensually eating lollipops while describing how much she loves Israel? Doesn’t quite work.

What does work throughout, however, is the setting and the performers themselves. The Nasher space is bathed in natural light that creates an intimacy between dancers and watchers; that’s furthered by the dancers’ expressiveness and the personal nature of their comments. Mesa—who shone at the festival last year in Dafi Altabab’s tight “Never the Less”—is particularly dynamic, presenting an athletic, unabashedly fierce femininity that feels very foreign.

Near the end of the piece, the two shift quickly from one mode to another—from being sexy to being scared, from laughing to hiding to posing—in a series of snapshots that could, really, describe the contradictions of any life. And then, making use of a kayak paddle that happens to be at the edge of the stage, they find their way into the sea and row away from the country that has been both their home and their trap.