Kellie MacDonald. Criticism class of Patrick Langston. November 18, 2017
From Israel-based dance company L-E-V, co-Artistic Directors Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar present OCD Love at the National Arts Centre’s Babs Asper Theatre. At roughly 55 minutes without intermission, the performance is an exploration of love and obsessive compulsive disorder set to the metronomic ticking of DJ Ori Lichtik’s soundscape. OCD Love keeps audiences on the edge with writhing choreography and repetitive bass-thumping house music.
Though the performance lacks a discernible narrative, connections with the subject matter are present. Repetitions of action echo obsessive tics. In one movement, a dancer replicates being crushed under an unbearable weight. In another, dancers rub their faces, an action reminiscent of dermatillomania, the compulsive behaviour focused on picking at the imperfections of one’s skin, often to the point of causing bleeding or scars. In another instance, a dancer’s jerky movements resembles a marionette controlled by invisible strings, indicating they are not in control of their own thoughts and actions.
There is also the recurring motif of constant performance, of a division between the inner and outer-facing self. About one third of the way through the performance, one of the female dancers raises her arms as a competitive gymnast presents herself to the judges after a routine. This thread of a fractured inner and outer-self continues in a duet between Mariko Kakizaki and Keren Loria Pardes. Pardes and Kakizaki begin as mirror images of each other’s movements, but slowly spiral outwards, never quite in synch.
Spoken word poet Neil Hilborn provides the source material from which co-choreographers Eyal and Behar draw. Hilborn’s poem “OCD” went viral across social media in 2013, leading to an outpouring of praise and sympathy. While Hilborn’s words clearly resonated with many living with OCD, it also presents an uncomfortably romantic picture of the disorder. “She loved that I had to kiss her goodbye sixteen times or twenty-four times if it was Wednesday…. Some mornings I’d start kissing her goodbye but she’d just leave cause I was just making her late for work,” speaks Hilborn, distraught. An assertion of healthy boundaries is fundamental in all relationships (especially where one or both of the participants struggle with mental illness), but Hilborn frames it as a one-sided falling out of love. Eventually, the poem culminates with the narrator’s plea for his ex-lover to return, stating, “I want her back so bad… I leave the door unlocked. I leave the lights on.”
Neither romantic love nor heartbreak are “cures” for OCD, a harmful stereotype which Hilborn’s poem further perpetuates. While Eyal and Behar’s seem to have good intentions towards their creation, the imperfect source material from which they draw raises questions on how those with the intimate experience of a relationship affected by obsessive compulsive disorder should react.
The National Arts Centre presents L-E-V’s OCD Love in the Babs Asper Theatre on November 24 – 25, 2017.