Every Fringe fest--stuffed to the gills with lots and lots of stuff--also has its must-see, unforgettable shows. This year brings us NY2Dance in Oasis: Everything you ever wanted to know about the Middle East but were Afraid to Dance--a work-in-progress by dancer-choreographer Nejla Y. Yatkin and some wonderful collaborators. The 70-minute ensemble piece--at once more serious, more powerful and more delicate than its subtitle would suggest--is showing at Theater 80 a few more times before the festival closes this weekend.
Oasis, inspired by the Arab Spring revolts, takes on difficult subject matter that others have tried on in dance theater and often fumbled--oppression, exploitation, rape, torture as well as the complexity of women's sense of personal identity and autonomy in repressive societies. Yatkin and her fellow dancers--Shay Bares, Sevin Ceviker, Ahmaud Culver, Jean-Rene Homehr, Rachel Holmes and Fadi Khoury--deliver a work that sears while daring to be exquisite, sensual and, during a fashion show devoted to hijab couture, even cheeky.
The modest East Village theater is clearly not the best location for Oasis, yet it presents little obstacle to this work's effectiveness and polished look--top-notch choreography enhanced by lighting design (Ben Levine), music (Shamou), animation (Iga Puchalska and Julien Smasal) and costuming (Ursula Verduzco and Yatkin). The seven dancers manage the small stage with ease, although this work needs, and will work well, in roomier surroundings.
A series of segments flow one into another, leaving no time for the viewer to recover from the dreamy spell or emotional devastation of the preceding one before becoming swept into the next. At the outset, animated silhouettes of a young girl conversing with her wise grandfather introduce the element of innocent curiosity. We might also ask, with this youngster, why we have created a world of so much pain? How did we lose our souls? How can we recover them?
That first bit of animation gives way to a swift, voluptuous duet between Yatkin and Iraq-born Khoury--both of them lithe and sinuous, continuously meeting and intertwining to the sound of muffled percussion and tinkling chimes. The dance is stylish, romantic and so engrossing that it takes a while before you notice something wrong: They're both wearing blindfolds. This segment yields to an anguished, frenzied solo for Khoury before a well-staged episode where masked men confine and torture him.
Yatkin can be a fiery dancemaker, but sometimes cool-and-quiet gets the job done--as in another section where Khoury lays out a serving tray and glassware along Bares' abject back and takes sips while calmly gazing at the young man who is so clearly his property and sexual conquest. And again, when Bares, alone and shyly trying out the finger cymbals that seem to manifest out of nowhere, slowly builds a deeply undulating solo--think of a Nijinsky, maybe, discovering bellydance--that speaks of the dawn of an inner power, a sexuality that is defined by self, for self.
I was shaken by much of Oasis. In the post-show Q&A, dancers revealed how deeply and personally it had affected them. Their investment in it clearly went far beyond getting the steps down.
Yatkin plans to tighten Oasis in advance of its premiere at next year's Bates College Dance Festival (Lewiston, ME). The Turkish Cultural Foundation will sponsor a presentation of Oasis at New York Live Arts (dates to be announced). Catch it this week at Theater 80 (Thursday, August 23 at 2pm and Sunday, August 26 at 1pm) or keep watch for these upcoming presentations of the finished piece.
Get more information and reservations on this and other New York Fringe Festival shows here.