“Wow. That was …” These are the words coming out of my boyfriend’s mouth as we sit, hands stinging from clapping for the performers of OCD Love. “Awesome!” I cry, grinning so hard my face hurts. My date and I have boiled down to our most basic selves — about to high five over the surge of emotions, the depth of being, the mere question of our own existence! — and me, a writer, well, all I can come up with is, “Awesome.”
OCD Love does this to you — hurls you against the wall then gently picks you off the floor, only to spin you around and ’round again. God, it’s a good show. I knew five minutes in that it would be consistently good. How can you know that? You can’t really. The music, played live by Ori Lichtik, is loud, powerful, and all-consuming. And then there was dancer Rebecca Hytting who has the floor for the first five minutes of the show, solo dancing, strong, pulsing, one muscle connecting with the next only to fall back onto itself, well, OCD Love had me at Rebecca.
I spoke to Hytting a couple months ago via Skype — she was in Israel, I was in a frigid conference room in downtown Charleston. And yes, cliched as it sounds, we connected over those miles and hours and cultures and slight language barriers. Because Hytting knows the power of the show. In April she told me, “It’s usually a place where people are open for something new or different; it’s something connecting audiences between countries.”
Was Charleston ready for something new or different? Last night’s crowd was, and for that, I am grateful — and hopeful. What was most telling was the audience reaction — no coughing, no whispering, no fidgeting. Everyone was captivated. Like Hytting said … there’s “something connecting.”
In addition to Hytting, OCD Love features Darren Devaney, Gon Biran, Mariko Kakizaki, and Keren Lurie Pardes. All five dancers were incredibly talented and strong, so very strong. They take turns holding a certain pose, which my boyfriend surprisingly acurrately, described as “playing air guitar.” At first it’s Devaney, with just Hytting on stage. He slowly circles the stage, holding his arms as if, yes, he were playing the guitar, or as I saw it, holding the strings to Hytting’s marionette. She curls into herself, busts open, every move carefully, methodically orchestrated.
There are moments of flow, too. OCD Love is not a Gaga dance performance, but rather a show whose performers often practice Gaga, which, I’m going to very unofficially compare to yoga. Context, y’all. So many of the movements onstage are careful, powerful, and flexible displays of the human body performing at 100 miles an hour, condensed into arms and legs. And then there are the moments of flow, where Hytting or Kakizaki or Pardes say, “fuck it,” and go leaping across the floor.
The show is based on the poem, OCD Love, by Neil Hilborn, which goes like this: I asked her out six times in thirty seconds. She said yes after the third one, but none of them felt right so I had to keep going. As I walked out of the theater I heard a man behind me say, “So moving … mental illness.”
Obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental illness and I do think it’s explored in this piece. As choreographer Sharon Eyal says of the Hilborn’s poem, and her resulting performance, “It is the first time that the core of the piece is shaped in my head, and so figurative, before we have even begun working. I know the way it feels and smells. Like the end of the world, without mercy. A smell of flowers, but very dark. Like falling into a hole and not coming back. A lot of noise, but desperation for quiet.”
And that is what the show is … but I think it’s about more than OCD. I think it would be reductive to leave it at that. With any mental illness, life, in your mind, can become distorted. Depression slows things down. Anxiety speeds things up. Life is lived in bursts and shouts and I speak from experience when I say that it can feel so very, very dark and then, suddenly, like the brightest place you’ve ever wandered into.
So yeah, maybe I fell into a hole last night. Maybe the beads of sweat on the dancers, their smirks, their contorted displays of despair, their occasional yelps, felt so much closer than rows of seats and a stage away. I can climb out of the hole but some people can’t and thinking of them, and how that must feel, leaves me bent into myself, like Hytting onstage, waiting, — perhaps forever — for my strings to be pulled.