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Dance company’s ‘Mad Siren’ explores the nexus of memory and music

By and style@washpost.com,

Israeli choreographer Idan Cohen remembers his grandmother as a mostly stoic, deeply restrained woman. A Holocaust survivor who eventually took up residence in Israel, she battled a serious depressive streak.

But when the Vienna, Austria, native heard the music of Wolfgang Mozart — that is, the music of her home country and the soundtrack of her childhood memories — Cohen said the woman’s body “would open like a flower.”

It is this complicated intersection of music and memory that is the basis for “Mad Siren,” a fresh and extraordinarily thoughtful work presented Saturday at Dance Place by Idan Cohen Dance Company.

The dance’s props instantly provide its framework. Birds’ nests, the most fragile and impermanent of homes, are scattered across the stage and serve as a haunting representation of how this woman must have felt after her displacement.

Music stands are sometimes folded up and wielded like weapons, and other times they serve to confine the dancers to one position. Like the music itself, the stands free the dancers to fight the sadness of the present, but they also trap them in an idealized time warp that can’t be revisited.

The movement is largely free and full of abandon. The dancers dive head first and backward toward the floor with no hint of hesitation. They grab their own chins and pull themselves forward, forcing their own bodies out of safe positions. The effectiveness of this choice is in its dual meaning: It could be characteristic of a woman energized by the memory of happier times, or it could be the demeanor of woman so disturbed that she’s lost all sense of equanimity.

The musical score, which comprises several of Mozart’s solo piano sonatas, might have tempted other choreographers to slavishly mimic its rhythm. But Cohen, a trained classical pianist, knew better. His movement was musical, but in surprising ways, with certain steps amplifying notes that might otherwise not have felt important.

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