Two Room Apartment presents a very stark representation of an up-and-down relationship between a homosexual couple.
Resurrecting a piece that broke boundaries in 1980s Israel has proved successful for dancer-choreographers Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor at the Malta Arts Festival, says Jo Caruana.
We never really know what goes on behind closed doors. Not really.
A relationship is crafted from a thousand tiny moments – quick smiles, supportive glances, intimate touches and frustrated remarks. From the outside, it always seems so much simpler than it does from within, but also so much less special.
So often we’re jealous or judgemental of the relationships around us, and let’s be honest: we never quite understand them.
Challenging that, as well as provoking thought on the stereotypical struggles within most relationships, comes Two Room Apartment, one of the highlights of the recent Malta Arts Festival.
The piece – a very stark representation of an up-and-down relationship between a homosexual couple – feels a little at odds in the pretty Phoenicia Hotel Ballroom, and yet works wonderfully.
The scene is set with just a black sheet of plastic across the stage and a few props dotted around it – a couple of zip-up tops, two bottles of water, towels and some industrial-strength tape.
That tape is first to be brought into focus and used to clearly mark out the space on the stage and to craft the two rooms.
The men – Niv Sheinfield and Oren Laor – then take to their sides and kickstart the piece in earnest. It is a slow, uncomfortable start as they both, in perfect synchronisation, work their way through a military-style set that is clearly reminiscent of 1980s Israel.
In fact, Sheinfeld and Laor are resurrecting a 1987 piece of the same name by Israeli duo Nir Ben-Gal and Liant Dror. Sheinfeld, who worked with Ben-Gal and Dror in the 90s, wanted to pay homage to the strides that were made for Israeli dance through the original Two Room Apartment, and this show does exactly that.
There is no fourth wall here. Using very Brechtian techniques, they occasionally nod towards their audience, making eye contact and slamming traditional theatrical procedures. Glamour and illusion are chucked out the window in favour of a more in-studio approach and, often through the 50-minute production, it feels more as though we have stepped into their rehearsal room to be part of their creative process, and less as though we have turned up as mere audience members.
From the outset, there is a clear struggle as both men demonstrate their masculinity through sharp, pointed movements.
Their clunky boots clanging against the floor are often the only sound, supplemented occasionally by sharp intakes of breath as they turn corners or forcefully run their fingers through their hair.
The show blurb makes it clear that Sheinfeld and Laor are a couple, both in their creative endeavors and in life. They have been together for 11 years and worked together for much of that, and this show is all about ‘them’.
Theirs is the kind of synchronicity that can only come from knowing your partner very, very well.
Their connection is almost palpable in the fleeting moments that their eyes meet, and my only criticism is that I would have liked to see more of this charming intimacy played out for us.
For the first 15 minutes of the show – which has, apparently, been kept almost identical to the original production (except for the fact that Ben-Gal and Dror were male and female, of course) – their movements perfectly mirror each other.
Rough, tough and poised, they work through a simple and repetitive choreography that leaves us wanting more. And then, after seemingly endless strides around the room, the music starts and the narrative develops.
This is when the power struggle becomes more evident and both are given the upper hand at points. As with any same-sex relationship, traditional stereotypes are called into question and the dancers are clear to challenge that. No sooner have they presented a stereotype, than they tear it down and start over with something clearly conflicting.
Despite Sheinfeld’s smaller stature, he is given the upper hand as Laor appears to need him desperately – even stripping off completely and climbing up onto him begging for love, affection and attention. The nudity, though quite shocking, is as far from erotic as you can imagine; instead it presents a vulnerable man desperate for safety.
Then, in a flash, the tables turn again and Laor – with his suddenly overstuffed underpants and puffed-up chest – struts around the stage while Sheinfeld appears to worship him from afar, even doing his laundry through a manic series of movements that got all the more crazed as time went on.
Their connection is almost palpable in the fleeting moments that their eyes meet, and my only criticism is that I would have liked to see more of this charming intimacy played out for us
The climax, though, comes quickly and easily as both performers seem to reach an equilibrium and life returns to the status quo. Before we know it, the frenetic movements and frenzied power struggle come to an end and the men work together to break down the four ‘walls’ of their two-room apartment, tuck away the unstuck tape and leave the stage.
Their final actions are slow, calculated and very sweet. And, to round off, this charming duo lock hands, share a look and subtly show their support to one another.
For a very short time, they have allowed us, behind their closed door, to steal a glimpse of their personal and professional relationship… to judge it, to enjoy it, to challenge it.
As they walk off stage, we feel as though we know them more intimately than we know our friends’ relationships. If only for 50 fleeting minutes, we are privileged.