Grass and Jackals is the first really surprising dance of this year’s Festival. Always I hope for, but rarely encounter, a dance that is as resistant as this one to verbal dissection. There’s an emotional journey of some sort through a difficult terrain; some battles, some adventures, some sphinxy pauses, some launchings toward freedom. The dancing is amazing throughout: the pliant dancers make astonishing shapes and do unexpected things. Both the choreography and the dancing are fresh and honest, very much present in the moment, but attuned to distant voice of myth and archetype. The work is understandable, but not with words. I both giggled and sobbed during the dance, and was nearly panting with hopefulness at its end. The Five Points Star-Dhuram NC

Fantasy, illusion, sensuality, and stark images of power and pain are all familiar elements in the work of Lee Sher and Saar Harari, the Israeli-born duo behind LeeSaar. This evening-length piece, their first to appear at the Joyce, is an extension of these themes, augmented by expressionistic lighting that transforms the dancers—seven women, clad in gleaming black bodysuits—into exotic, fluidly moving creatures, sexual and fierce. New Yorker 

The seven women of LeeSaar the Company are a sleek pack. In “Grass and Jackals,” which had its New York premiere on Saturday in the troupe’s debut performance at the Joyce Theater, they are sheathed in black bodysuits. Under thick black slabs of painted-on eyebrows, their eyes gaze out with the look of animals encountered in the wild: now sanguinely alert, now spooked. Then they smile like contestants in a beauty pageant, a different kind of watched beast.

If the women sometimes move like animals, they also move like animals under fire. Suddenly, their pliant bodies are blown back, nearly blown apart, knocked out of their usual alignment into some twisted shape, with ribs way over here, and a leg way up there. They have fits of jiggling or bump into one another while doing goon walks. The choreography, by the company’s Israeli-born artistic directors, Lee Sher and Saar Harari, has the intense looseness of Gaga, the technique devised by the Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin.

This is all striking, especially against Avi Yona Bueno’s backdrop of moiré striations, which adds drama by changing hue. NY Times

That sense of contradiction is what makes Grass and Jackals so fresh and affective. Moments of extreme control clash with gestures that suggest wild abandon: arms spin at the shoulder with such speed they seem ready to fly into space; exaggerated strides send hips jutting to side-to-side extremes; a simple walk is made surreal as each step brings a foot to eye level. There are shakes, shivers, convulsions—but also flashes of lyricism, pairs of dancers uniting in a grand sweeping arc.

In Grass and Jackals, the otherworldly Gaga vocabulary suggests a universe of non-human creatures, which serves the ecological ideas at the center of the piece. The only spoken text in the soundtrack speaks of preserving life forms of all sorts. And the final scenes of the dance depict a stunning Firebird-like transformation. In the midst of one of the piece’s most dense ensembles, the dancers all drop to the floor, flat on their backs. The lights slowly dim in silence, and there’s a long moment of total stillness. But then, torsos and knees raise with a small jolt, as if the creatures were attempting one last lunge at life. Eventually, they all rise and witness the metamorphosis of one dancer, who peels away the dark skin to reveal a metallic gold layer underneath. It’s a spectacular touch of theatricality that caps an exciting new dance. Milwaukee Magazine

World premiere American Dance Festival June 30th – July 2nd

Choreography: Lee Sher and Saar Harari

Lights and stage design: Bambi

Creating dancers: Jye-Hwei Lin, Hsin-Yi Hsiang, Candice Schnurr, Hyerin Lee, Amy Dressendorfer, Isabel Umali, Motrya Kozbur.

Costumes: Naomi Luppescu

Production manager: Carolyn Wong

Lead commissioning and developmental support has been provided by American Dance Festival, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and The Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival.

Photos: Christopher Duggan