LeeSaar on “Princess Crocodile” @ BAC
I spoke with Lee Sher and Saar Harari of LeeSaar during their final week of rehearsal at Baryshnikov Arts Center. Established in Israel in 2000 and based in NYC since 2004, they work in the context of Gaga (a movement language developed by Ohad Naharin based on bodily self-awareness, sensitivity, and imagination) and incorporate a variety of theater and dance techniques.
According to Saar, their ongoing shared practice has always been at the center of what they do. “We invest most of our time in process; have always rehearsed every day since we came here 10 years ago, regardless of our financial situation. We start each day with Gaga class and we work with people for a long time. We’re really invested in them and interested in leading them to be the best interpreters of the work, not just someone who will execute. To get to that place we just need to work a lot. We have the structure of a small emerging choreographer but the structure we believe in is the structure of a big company, so there’s a challenge there.”
Their priority is to develop a strong and singular voice over time — performance comes second. Says Lee, “We work to develop our own language of body, sensitivity, rhythm. The way the dancers find themselves onstage at the end is something we take very seriously. It’s about finding the truth of who we are and what energy we have and how we can use it to the maximum. To discover the range we can work with, from the most vulnerable place to the most powerful, overwhelming place…we try to search these places.”
We talk about how they approach moving from practice to creation, and Saar emphasizes a “process of listening.” “After we leave the studio we come back to the house and sit with the video when the children are asleep so we can think about atmosphere, energy, music, composition…so we can create the right world for the piece. Listening is not an easy task; we try to hold on to the things that we’re interested in and connect to different engines. We want to enjoy watching what we create, which is why we work with video; sometimes we enjoy so much in the studio but we need to see other parameters of choreography that we can pay attention to.”
I ask them about their division of labor and where they locate their individual identities while always working as a couple. Saar shares that every facet of their process is truly shared but that they may approach it with different sensitivities. “I am a woman, Saar is a man,” Lee responds. “We can only talk about what was different this week, this month…. This week I was pessimistic and he was optimistic. We are always different from each other and sometimes one can let go. One can say ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I’m standing in front of a wall,’ ‘I can’t do it today.’” They agree that working together takes some of the fear out of the process. “I think about doing it alone…I wouldn’t. But I also don’t want to live without you, so it’s the same. It can be vulnerable and lonely but we are not completely alone.”
In Princess Crocodile, they are mining the experience of being and becoming a woman. “All of us in the same moment are princesses and crocodiles, even if we if we ignore one or don’t agree. There’s fantasy in the title.” The work is comprised of “a lot of small stories, moments of relationship and inner research, being part of a group and not part of a group, sensations, real moments, many possibilities to feel many things.” They think of the work as a very specific world, but try to “avoid nailing it to one thing. We try to nail everything except for the subject.”
More important than fantasy / metaphor is a sense of humanity. Their most cherished feedback comes from an elderly audience member in DC: “I saw my life from the beginning until now.” “I agree with her, says Lee, “I see my life. We try to be very, very human on top of the extremes of the body. We don’t look at the ceiling or to the sides, we try to be simple and real. And then we can expose ourselves with all of the extravagant things the body can do. We try to bring the heart and the guts and the real self. The dancers know how to use their flesh and bones and skin in special ways but it’s them, that’s who they are. They are people first.”