Coping with crisisA dance film titled +972 has had its world premiere showing under the aegis of the American Dance Festival. The piece is by Dana Ruttenberg, an Israeli-born dancer and choreographer. Trained in Israel and the U.S., she has been active in Israel since 2003, where she choreographs for, among others, the renowned Batsheva Dance Ensemble.

Her artistic partner in the film was Netta Yerushalmy (YeruSHALmy), an Israeli-born choreographer based in New York City. Working in a variety of genres, her awards include a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship. She traveled back to Israel to create the film together with Ruttenberg.

The American Dance Festival (ADF), under the sponsorship of which this virtual presentation took place, is a national-level organization established in 1934. It has been connected with the careers of major choreographers such as Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey. The ADF co-commissions and co-presents works with other leading performing arts organizations, including the North Carolina Dance Festival, Duke University, and the Kennedy Center; it sponsors substantial education and community outreach programs as well.

Perhaps the title of the film bears mentioning first. It is the international dialing code for Israel. Viewers who have called there would recognize it. Otherwise, the meaning is not made clear anywhere in the film. It deserves to be clear, however; Israel is the grounding and locale, the warm setting for the very human and intimate experience of dance presented in the film.

+972 is an exploration of two people as dancers, along with the potential of dance itself; the dancers had not worked together before undertaking this film. It begins with movement and simultaneous informal conversation in a dance studio. The figures are partially silhouetted, which makes them suggestive as well as concrete. (Most accurately said, the film starts with a literal yawn, taken to indicate the moment of beginning). This 3½ -minute scene cuts to a brief portion on an outdoor plaza, followed by the 9-minute core of the film, on the beach – largely empty in the era of Covid.

This sections begins with the two women lying on the sand, their faces in quiet counterpoint with one another, and mainly the sound of the surf in the background. It moves to what may be the most poetic segment, with Ruttenberg dancing in a tunnel, framing a view of the beach and the ocean behind her. The shapes of her movement, together with reflections by Yerushalmy as she reacts to what she sees, are evocative. She describes moving as “some version of thinking and talking,” suggesting the experience of dance as a multi-layered and also potentially universal form of expression.

The dance then continues in fluid movements on the sand near the water. This is the first point when the viewer can identify the locale as Tel Aviv; it is not named, but the tower in Jaffa is seen clearly in the background.

Then the dance shifts to Yerushalmy, first entering and then interacting with the water or dancing on the packed sand near its edge – quite a different nature of movement. Her segment is not accompanied by spoken commentary but by a guitar tutorial. There is instruction, guitar playing, and singing. The last two minutes have Yerushalmy out of the water, under the nearby shower and continuing movement there, with Ruttenberg ruminating. It ends without movement, with the two women in close physical interface, having gained a certain inner and outer knowledge of one another, a journey having begun and also still in progress.

The short film – just 13½ minutes to the credits – was followed by discussion with the two dancers and a few viewer questions. It was introduced by the executive director of the ADF, Jodee Nimerichter, and moderated by Jesse Zaritt, a dancer and choreographer who has performed in many countries and clearly is well-acquainted with the two performers. This was very informative, with Ruttenberg speaking especially eloquently about the meaning of the film. She referred to the ephemeral nature of the sand being used for dancing, the love of dance, and the need for one who dances to renew that as a sort of pact. (She is now mainly a choreographer but said that she returned to dancing for this film.) It was said that dancing in the waves was like being entangled in forces and that the film was like writing a postcard, creating a capsule of an experience. Such insights expanded the experience of the film and made one want to see it again.

Together with its beauties, it might be said that the film is probably best experienced by people who are already lovers of dance. It seems too rarified in nature to fulfill the idea of presenting dance to the world as a universal experience. It is all improvisation – fine in itself – but lacking an overall design or peak in the movement, something extending beyond the interesting ruminations and free momentary creations.

To this viewer, a second half would have been a very good addition, a portion in which the two dancers, now personally and artistically connected, would have performed an actual work together, with a structure and with more designed interaction between them. Both being skilled choreographers, one could imagine them having created such a work together and that this could have been a strong artistic statement.

A few smaller points deserve mention. One wishes that the short Hebrew segments had had subtitles or translation. They were pertinent to the thought sequence, but most viewers will miss what was said. Yawning as a way to begin may have symbolic meaning but seemed an unduly casual opening. The rapid camera cuts in some portions broke into the perception of movement as an ongoing event; one would have appreciated seeing it as more continuous, less in shifting kaleidoscope. Finally, the music accompanying Yerushalmy’s dancing in the ocean lacked any connection in rhythm or character to what the viewer was seeing. Music more evocative of her movement or surroundings would have been enriching.

Pluses and some minuses taken into account, this was an appealing meditation on dancing and on two creative people finding one another. It blended movement with thoughtful words and some evocative surroundings. One hopes that it may attract significant appreciative audiences in and beyond the world of dance.

This film is viewable until January 19. To see the performance, go here