Reviewed by Amy Howden-Chapman
Talking to this catalogue would be like talking to a small crowd. I would question Michael Govan and James S. Snyder as they gave their joint director’s foreword. I would small talk to Eva Diaz, while Eva talks about Sharon Lockhart’s Historical Choreography; or, the War of Remembrance That is History. I would converse with Talia Amar, who is talking about Summer Wind in the Thistles. I would confer with the students and long time collaborators of Noa Eshkol, Racheli Nul-Kahana, Shmulik Zaidel, Ruti Sela, Mooky Dagan and Mor Bashan – talking to them is fascinating, though emotional. I would jaw with Stephanie Barron and Britt Salvesen as they talk about Drawing in Space. Perhaps parley with Michal Shoshani about Foundations and Unique Aspects of Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation. And I might finally end up talking to, Sabine Eckman and Sharon Lockhart. Actually I am talking less to Sabine Eckmann and Sharon Lockhart, I am more just listening in as they have their own conversation about collaboration.
No—it’s more On Collaboration.
All this talking is only to say that there is much to say about the exhibition SHARON LOCKHART/ NOA ESHKOL. All these voices have something to add, each filling a missing gap; that of Noa Eshkol (1924-2007). When Eshkol’s voice does appear, it is in remembered phrases, anecdotes, quoted documents, but most of all in dance pieces performed for Lockhart’s camera.
The exhibition and its catalogue, are in large part Lockhart’s exploration of how Eshkol’s voice and legacy should be framed. Lockhart rightfully concludes that Eshkol’s work is relevant to a much wider international and contemporary audience than has previously had access to it.
There are stark but predictable losses in absorbing the exhibition in book form. By its nature the catalogue re-flattens those very dances Lockhart went to such pains to make move again. Also lost are sound, the ability to move through the voluminous forms on which Lockhart’s films were projected and the ability to absorb the precise craft and tactility of the Wall Carpets.
Yet this is made up for at least in part by the contextualisation of Eshkol’s work that the catalogue provides, including talk about the particular historical moment from which Eshkol’s work emerged and the sense we gain of her as a forceful teacher, leader, and practitioner. The catalogue also documents the process by which Lockhart chooses to present Eshkol’s creative legacy, ultimately in a manner to which she would have objected and yet with elements of a genuine collaboration between the two artists.
The most striking re-interoperation of Eshkol’s creative legacy is Lockhart’s presentation of the Wall Carpets positioned in space beside Eshkol’s former students and collaborators as they perform her choreographed pieces. The two components of her creative output in juxtaposition is provocative. Michal Shoshani talking about what “Noa believed,” quoting her as saying “that if you work correctly, the body has an ability for self expression, and is in no need of support.” The supports she deemed unnecessary included props, music and costume; she was against theatricality of any kind. Lockhart has included not only props, but those constructed by Eshkol herself.
Yet the provocative move of Lockhart’s is successful in part due to the manner in which the ‘discipline’ of Eshkol’s choreographic style is presented within the similarly disciplined mise en scene of Lockhart’s ‘cinematic photograph.’ Cinematic photograph is how Diaz describes frozen moments of Lockhart’s films – the frames that are captured in the book. These frames have a tone of austerity about them. They are so crisp and ordered that the inclusion of the frenetic, highly patterned Wall Carpets provides an internal counterbalance; complexity presented alongside simplicity. Ruti Sela talks of the strange position the carpet inhabits in Eshkol’s creative output– she says that “Noa never referred to the carpets as art. She hated the word “art.” Nevertheless, if someone said that the carpets weren’t arty, she would become furious.
“I dared to have the nerve to create a language.” Eshkol states with pride. It was a language that as Mooky Dagan explains she invented to “express the phenomenon of movement.” In Lockhart’s films we see also the beauty of the movements that illustrate the notation system, while the catalogue documents the many other possible applications for the system beyond dance.
Many of the values and organisational modes which percolate through Eshkol’s work can be traced to the influence of the kibbutz with its melding of utopian, Zionist and Socialist beliefs. Eshkol’s parents participated in the founding of Degania Bet, the kibbutz on which she was born, with Eshkol’s father Levi Eshkol going on to become Israel’s third prime minister. Eshkol’s legacy can also be seen as contributing to a set of distinctive Israeli cultural practices that were developed in the country’s formative decades.
Lockhart says “everyone told me that this collaboration could never have taken place if Eshkol were alive. Aside from the fact that she was incredibly uncompromising, she may not have understood my reframing of her work.” But in all this talk about the struggle between personalities, the struggle to create new forms of dance, the question of how to create dance for a new country; in the challenge of notating movement and describing form, and collaborating over decades, Noa Eshkol emerges as a formidable character of vision, with a consuming commitment to her artistic mission, and the community built around it.
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Ed. Stephanie Barron and Britt Salvesen, Sharon Lockhart / Noa Eshkol, (Prestel, 2012)
Images: Cover and interior images from Sharon Lockhart / Noa Eshkol and corresponding exhibition at LACMA.