Israeli-born choreographer Zvi Gotheiner of ZviDance was apparently inspired to create "Dabke" while dining in a Lebanese restaurant in Stockholm, where a waiter and someone else spontaneously broke into the dabke, a traditional Arabic line dance that, like much else, has been assimilated into Israeli society.
The source of the piece, or at least Gotheiner's retelling of it, reflects more its wild swings among cultures and styles more than any compelling cultural commentary. The other piece that made up the evening at the short season at the Live Arts Theater (hard by G Lounge in Chelsea), "Coupling," displayed the same strange combination of moves, in this case between a series of partners, both same- and other-sexed.
The major problem with the evening as presented was that both pieces were so long they wore out their welcome. Although the members of his small company are certainly energetic and athletic as all get-out, after a while, seeing them throw themselves about on the stage becomes nearly as exhausting for the audience as it must be for them.
The moves in both pieces included some strange hand movements and finger gestures. In "Dabke," a man removes his T-shirt (the "costumes" are casual street wear) and uses it as a dry mop and a prayer rug, among other things. This must have some deep meaning, but I couldn't find it.
In neither piece did the music add much substance. "Coupling" featured electronica from Trent Reznor and Attikus Ross, but the angry inventiveness of Nine Inch Nails was nowhere in evidence here. The music was all-too similar to the droning electronica that substitutes for dance music in clubs these days.
"Dabke" benefited from an adaptation of traditional Arab folk music. This is the stuff that pours from cafes in Middle Eastern nations. It can drive you crazy with its constant droning, but with its cymbals and pulsating rhythm, it makes for really terrific music for dancing. Too bad, then, that in "Dabke" it was frequently interrupted by seemingly random swatches of other musical styles.
Gotheiner's intentions, to provide a common language through dance to bridge cultures, particularly the Arab-Israeli divide, is certainly commendable. But he needs to make his work more inviting to the audience that is watching before he truly begins to change the world.
ZviDance’s "Dabke" and "Coupling" ran through June 3 at New York Live Arts, 219 W. 19th St. For more info, visit http://www.zvidance.com/#/home