Based in Germany, the Mamaza Dance Collective which opened the newly formed dance series at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, was originally founded in 2009 by Ioannis Mandafounis, Fabrice Mazliah and May Zarhy. In 2015, Mazliah and Zarhy took over the reins of running the company together. Both Mandafounis and Mazliah performed with the Forsythe Company that is based in Dresden. Born in Geneva, Fabrice Mazliah first performed with the Nederlands Dans Theater in Holland. Mandafounis was born in Athens and before joining the Forsythe Company performed with Göteborg Operans Danskompani and the Nederlands Dans Theater II. May Zarhy was born in Israel, moved to the Netherlands and later was a member in ex.e.r.ce in Montpellier France, directed by Mathilde Monnier and Xavier Le Roy. After reading their dance bios, one might anticipate or at least expect a very different type of performance. That is the trap that I fell into and sadly I was very disappointed. It appears that these two men decided to discard their classical training and prior experiences to explore new territory.
The press release for EIFO EFI states “….the performers offer their understanding of two persons, as the more than of what two people can be. The performers fill the performance space with versions or echoes of themselves.” There were two people, Mandafounis and Mazliah and each man’s dialogue, that lasted through most of the work, did indeed echo or run in juxtaposition with each other. Overlaid is a better descriptive word of what I heard. Two narratives taking place simultaneously; almost joining in unison a few times, but never reaching unity. Throughout the beginning of the work, the movement shadowed that idea; two men performing separate but related in concept solos that echoed, almost but not quite came into unison, and overlaid each other into somewhat confusing, almost pointless results.
With both men speaking very loudly at the same time, it was difficult to understand either. A word or phrase was caught, but the subject matter and/or the results of what they were relating got lost in the shuffle. I heard parts of a tale about a tall woman lying on striped beach towel reading a book, and there was the part about suddenly finding oneself in a dark hallway. Unfortunately, I was not able to hear the ending to either of those situations. Even though the two men briefly touched, it felt like two separate universes that ran parallel to each other or which somehow intersected, but neither knew of the other’s existence.
Thankfully, the talking stopped for a time to allow the angular, pretzel-like joining of bodies to be visible, but soon the double-talk began again; softer this time and more comprehensible. Then the house lights came up, and the movement became frantic as the two men began a verbal game which included “Find the man with the black beard.” or “Find the woman with the blue sweater and the dark scarf.” I soon realized that these men and women were seated in the audience. I located a few, but not many.
The floor of the performance space was covered with a very reflective material which mirrored or “echoed” the performers and the lighting. The Lighting Designer, Harry Schulz, used the theater’s harsh fluorescent lights located above the grid, some theater lighting and far too briefly a beautiful red neon-like lights that bounced off the floor in an interesting manner. Twice there appeared a projection on the back wall that could have been the reproduction of a brown and gray painting.
What Mandafounis and Mazliah did was not easy. It took great physical training and stamina to dance and talk for the hour-long performance. Also, one cannot judge a choreographer’s work by one piece. After seeing EIFO EFI, however, I was left wanting. I overheard one patron state as she left the theater, “Well, that was different at least”. Different, yes, but not a work that I can honestly recommend.