It wouldn't be stretching things too much to say that Moshe Efrati is, among other things, a miracle worker.
The Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater was the setting last night for a living demonstration of his powers in this regard, as the troupe he heads -- the Moshe Efrati Kol Demama Dance Company -- presented the first of three evening programs to a warmly receptive audience. This group from Israel is unique in the realm of professional dance in integrating deaf and hearing performers. The company, currently on its first New World tour, is also offering a free lecture-demonstration (in the Terrace at 11 this morning) illustrating Efrati's extraordinary methods for achieving the fusion.
It might be fair to add at the start that one's admiration for Efrati and his troupe is tempered to a degree by the generally lackluster choreography -- all of it by Efrati -- which serves as repertory. The creation and sustaining of the company, and the very high level of virtuosity it has attained, are surely wonders enough in their own right. It would only demean these accomplishments to pretend that Efrati's choreographic efforts are on the same plane.
Jerusalem-born Efrati, 49, studied dance in Israel, and with Martha Graham and other masters in this country, before returning to his native land to become a founding member of the Batsheva troupe in 1964. Shortly thereafter he began devoting increasing time, energy and imagination to working with deaf performers. In 1967 he founded Demama, a company of deaf dancers, and a few years later, in addition, the Efrati Dance Company, composed of hearing dancers. Finally, in 1978, he merged the two into Kol Demama (literally, in Hebrew, sound and silence).
The basis of the merger was a "vibrational" system it took years for Efrati to perfect, in which the deaf dancers take their choreographic cues from beat patterns felt through their feet, or gestural signals sensed through bodily contact, as well as from visual sources. The hearing dancers, meanwhile, are directed by the movement of their deaf comrades, as well as by sound and music. Last night's performance offered dramatic witness to the system's effectiveness -- it's virtually impossible to tell which dancers are which. What you see is an ensemble of 17 performers, sleek, beautifully disciplined physical specimens, who dance as a single, seamless unit.
Three Efrati compositions made up last night's program, but aside from their titles -- "Dalet Atmot," "Attachments," and "Chapters-Voices" -- and such externals as costume color, they seemed interchangeable in mood, design and choreographic detail. All contained winglike arm formations, mechanical trampings and bewildering flurries of exits and entrances, couched in a platitudinous mixture of balletic and modern dance idioms. Ultimately, little was communicated beyond the prowess, rapport and fervor of the dancers -- admirable qualities to be sure, but in themselves still short of an authentic or persuasive artistic statement.