Artist Noa Eshkol (1924-2007) seems to have been the best kept secret of Israel's creative community. With architect Avraham Wachman, she developed a movement notation system in the 1950's that used symbols and numbers to express the spatial relationships between parts of the body to create highly structured modern dances. Eshkol, daughter of Israel's third prime minister, had a charismatic personality that attracted the dancers who came to live with her in Holon to perfect her demanding system of choreography. The short dances are performed to the sound of a metronome only and have not been executed in front of an audience since the 1970's. Though Eshkol died in 2007, the dancers who had been living and working with her for decades continue to perform her choreography as a daily practice.
Enter L.A. artist Sharon Lockhart, who uses film and photography to capture specific groups of individuals such as a Japanese high school girl's basketball team or children living in the small town of Pine Flats near the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. Lockhart never met Eshkol but heard about her work on a trip to Israel in 2008. After visiting the dancers in their communal living and working arrangements at the house they had shared with Eshkol, remarkably, she gained their trust. She filmed the dancers dressed in black leggings and tops, more women than men, and now in their advanced years as they performed the distinct, simple gestures to the tick-tock-tick of the metronome.
Film still from Five Dances and Nine Wall Carpets by Noa Eshkol, 2011
Five-channel installation (35mm film transfered to HD)
Courtesy of the artisst, Blum & Pie, Los Anglees; Gladston eGallery, New York and Brussels;
and neugerriemschneider, Berlin © Sharon Lockhart, 2012
The exhibition at LACMA through September 9 consists of five dances presented on different screens that seem to float in the darkened galleries. An archival display includes photographs of the dancers when they were young and books documenting her notation system. The show also includes Lockhart's own intriguing photographs of the wire sphere that Eshkol used to explain the movement of the body. All are impeccably installed by architects Frank Escher and Ravi GuneWardena, who have collaborated with Lockhart in the past.
Though the dancers did not usually perform with sets, for these films Lockhart included panels of brightly colored abstract tapestries that have a story of their own.
Noa Eshkol, Celebrating Circle (Wedding), 1980's
Cotton, cotton velvet devoré velvet, polyester
Noa Eshkol Foundation for Movement Notation, Holon, Israel
In the1970's, during the Yom Kippur War, these fabrics were brought to Eshkol's house and, over the years, were sewn by the dancers into what they termed “wall-carpets,” elaborate unpremeditated compositions of scraps: red velvet, daisy-covered cotton, strips of chintz and so forth. Of the 1800 in existence, three are being presented at LACMA.
As she has done in the past, Lockhart collaborated with composer Becky Allen and Dane Davis. She considers this work to be equally that of the late Noa Eshkol and insisted that the show's title give both artists equal billing. It certainly illuminates a little known discipline of 20th century modern dance as well as the considerable discipline of Lockhart herself, whose interest in structuralist film has found a companionable subject. The show travels to the Jewish Museum in New York.
Banner image: Film still from Five Dances and Nine Wall Carpets by Noa Eshkol, 2011. Five-channel installation (35mm film transfered to HD); Courtesy of the artisst, Blum & Pie, Los Anglees; Gladston eGallery, New York and Brussels; and neugerriemschneider, Berlin © Sharon Lockhart, 2012