As a dancemaker, Sharon Eyal feels what is inside of her. An audacious mover, Eyal is concerned with physicality. She is aware that every day in her body is different from the day before. In a 2004 PillowTalk at Jacob’s Pillow, she stated that the land, people, and atmosphere of Israel all had had an impact on her work. But, Eyal went on to explain, more important to her than her roots was feeling the past and the present of her dancing body. Eyal’s sensate awareness of how it feels to be in her body as a mover has directed her choreographic inquiry. She has discovered how to pull other dancers into her deep physical awareness and then craft and display that investigation in compellingly visceral and visual ways.
Eyal started dancing with the dance company Batsheva two weeks before choreographer Ohad Naharin started as artistic director. Their artistic relationship was profound and rewarding. For more than twenty years, Eyal was a muse and singular interpreter of Naharin’s work. As if she were Suzanne Farrell to his Balanchine, Eyal has been at the forefront of Naharin’s exploration of the movement language called “gaga.” Rather than working on replicating an external image through the use of a mirror to achieve an ideal, gaga is image based. In a 2004 interview at the Pillow, Eyal describes gaga as a process of “searching inside your body” and “finding the maximum in a minimal way.” The training results in a kind of ferocity on the part of the dancers; they move with supple upper bodies against a strong solid base. They are all quick, strong, and agile. Men and women are equally powerful and sensitive. They redefine what is beautiful.
Eyal was born in Jerusalem in 1971 and started dancing when she was 4, in what she describes as “one of those rhythmics classes for children.” At the age of 11, she was accepted into a children’s folk-dance troupe, eventually studying at the Bat-Dor studio in Tel Aviv. At that time she also started modelling and acquired a reputation as a glamour girl. The local weeklies quickly anointed her “the queen of nightlife.” When she cut off her hair, it was eulogized in a column in a Tel Aviv weekly. This kind of celebrity status doesn’t happen to modern dancers in the U.S.
While Eyal was long a muse for Naharin’s choreography, he was also instrumental in providing her opportunities to choreograph while dancing with Batsheva. During this same time, she began her relationship with creative and life partner Gai Behar. She and Behar have been frequently commissioned to create works for companies elsewhere.
In addition to Batsheva dancing her work (Love, seen at the Pillow in its 2004 U.S. premiere), Eyal made Killer Pig (2009) for the Norwegian contemporary dance company Carte Blanche.
Killer Pig is for six of the company women; a world without men, where the women are made to look like one another through costume and hairstyle. The women are simultaneously gorgeous and shocking, bathing beauties and Amazons. They are a single unit but deeply individualistic. It opens with the dancers clumped together like some kind of organism, with twitchy, minimalist movement that gets increasingly athletic and virtuosic. The work is stunning and mesmerizing, as it is mechanistic. At first as they move with almost one body throughout the space, it feels crowded but supportive. As the bodily movements begin to take up more space, Eyal organizes the space so it becomes more ordered. Lines and formations appear and disappear. At times the dancers look at the audience, frankly and assertively, as if saying, “I know you are looking at me, but I can see you, too.” No demure sylphs here. This piece makes demands with exclamation points. The extremes these women go to! The endurance! The hyper-flexibility! The strength! The women!
After seeing Eyal’s works danced only by women, dance writer Gabi Aldor wrote:
“Sharon Eyal’s approach is a fresh reminder of an alternative femininity, maybe similar to that of Madonna who fearlessly re-invents herself every day, of women artists like Martha Graham and others who refused to assume the victim’s role (although circumstances could have led them there). The clarity of movement in her dances is such that feminine splendor becomes a magnificence greater than life, worthy of goddesses.” Gabi Aldor, CLASSIC music and style magazine, November 2006.
Eyal isn’t thinking about character or stories in her work. In that same 2004 PillowTalk, Eyal described her journey to dancemaking. She said choreography or “composition is the most interesting thing to me.” She went on to say, “it’s not about thinking too much about what will I do, it’s about instinct, about moments, about bodies. It’s about ideas, but not so much about a story. It’s not about what I knew before; composition is something that will happen.”
Late in 2011, Eyal decided to end her 23-year affiliation with Batsheva and set out to form her own ensemble with Behar. “When you go to other companies, it’s like being a guest,” says Behar. And, as Eyal adds, your own troupe “is your home.” They call their troupe L-E-V, but as the online magazine Dance in Israel quips, “Don’t expect a satisfactory explanation for what the acronym means. (‘It’s whatever you want it to be.’ Eyal insists.)”
In 2013, the Pillow presented the U.S. debut of L-E-V and the piece HOUSE (2011). Behar is credited as co-choreographer. His background is not in dance per se—if one thinks of dance only on the stage. He was a notorious mover and a shaker of Tel Aviv’s live music, art, and nightlife scenes. Behar produced underground music events in basements and parking lots in Israel. The other important collaborator is the sound artist Ori Lichtik, one of the founding fathers of the techno scene in Israel, as a creative DJ and drummer.
HOUSE feels episodic and its effect is cumulative. It is stunning and mesmerizing, with hypnotic music, dramatic lighting, and dancers in extraordinarily fashionable costumes.
Na’ama Lanski, writing in a Tel Aviv daily paper, asked:
Oh, Sharon Eyal. What do you dream about at night? What kind of faces do you make at the mirror? Have you ever taken a Rorschach test? Can we see the results?"