In 2013, obsessive-compulsive disorder sufferer, Neil Hilborn, became an overnight internet sensation when his performance of a poem he wrote for the Individual Finals of that year’s Rustbelt Regional Poetry Slam, in Madison, Wisconsin, was first uploaded.
To date, the video of his recitation has had over twelve and a half million hits, so it is not surprising that Israeli choreographer, Sharon Eyal, would have encountered it.
What is surprising is that Hilborn’s poem OCD became such an obsession for Eyal, who by her own admission ‘couldn’t stop reading it’, that she subsequently, as a response to her intimacy with the nuances of the piece, began visualizing it as a dance performance.
Through working with her collaborator, Gai Behar, she has transformed the poem into a shape that reflects her response to the emotive power of the original work.
L-E-V: OCD Love, from the outset, starting with a solo dance, conveys the frustrations and insecurities of the obsessive compulsive. The dancer paces the stage in sinewy slow cycles to the accompaniment of incessant ticking, so we can understand the process of repetition depicted is akin to the tics that sufferers endure as they attempt to find the state of unattainable perfection that so often debilitates them.
As the performance progresses, the musical score, composed and played live by sound artist Ori Lichtik, swells into moments of electro-beauty that stay with us fleetingly, before visceral loud bass beats intrude, incessantly pounding through your ears and your seat. These concussive blows act as the soundtrack to the growing anxieties and agitated impatience projected through the dancers’ movements.
The six dancers, who inhabit the stage in various combinations throughout the show, express a myriad of emotions, eliciting momentary empathy but, ultimately, the outcome for both sufferer and audience is a necessarily alienating one.
The dancers’ faces which remain largely expressionless; the costumes which are largely featureless, combine with the stark three spot lighting, and suggest an all-encompassing loneliness enveloping each individual, even when they are entwined intimately with others.
Obviously, the dance is not designed to provide a literal interpretation of Hilborn’s narrative poem – a poignant tale about finding love, and losing it again in the face of one person’s inability to accommodate the intensity of OCD love – but the essence of it is captured well in those moments where synchronisation almost occurs, but is never fully achieved. These people seem to drift through life, connect, move in mutual rhythms momentarily before being ejected, at times forcibly, from the relationships that have formed but not bound.
The ‘narrative’ seems to end in mid-performance, not with a bang but a whimper, inferring that, for the obsessives of this world, there can be no forseeable end to the cycles of frustration that they must endure. A bleak and heart-breaking epiphany.
OCD Love proved to be compulsive, but uncomfortable viewing.
L-E-V: OCD Love was performed at Her Majesty’s Theatre, as part of the Adelaide Festival on March 19.