(photo by Gadi Dagon, borrowed from here).
Wednesday night I went to see the popular Israeli dance troupe, Batsheva Dance Company, at Brooklyn Academy of Music. My main experience with Batsheva has been taking a Gaga Class (artistic director and choreographer Ohad Naharin’s unique movement training) by Gaga-trained dancers at Cedar Lake Studios, and then seeing that company perform Naharin’s DecaDance ( a collection of his works over the past 10 years). This was the first time I’ve ever seen a piece by Naharin on his own dancers.
Maybe because I loved DecaDance so much (see above link), I was a bit disappointed with Max. The dancers are absolutely incredible with what all they can do with their bodies — making distinct, highly evocative gestures, then changing to another gesture at immense speed, bending and contorting their bodies into impossible-looking shapes, throwing themselves to the floor, insanely fast high battemants, etc. etc. — and you can really see how much Gaga technique, taken over a period of time, can allow you to move. My problem was more with the overall piece. It didn’t seem to go anywhere, just seemed to be the same extremely intense movements — sometimes evoking horror, sometimes prayer for forgiveness or peace, sometimes shock, with brief moments of tenderness, attempts to connect to one another, thrown in.
Naharin made the soundscape himself (under the pseudonym Maxim Waratt), and it was very intense. At times a deep-voiced man would sing in Hebrew (I think), his guttural crooning creating at times a threatening, portending feel, at times a bluesy one, similar to Leonard Cohen. At other times, the sound would resemble an ambulance siren, an earthquake, a whistle, raindrops or a leak — some kind of falling water, sometimes a person breathing heavily, at times there would be utter silence.
The dancers would stand upright, then suddenly bend at the waist as if in excruciating pain, grab their sides, fall to the ground, spasm. Sometimes they would walk on high releve, at first sexy then transmogrifying into something more unsettling and sinister (which reminded me of a scene in DecaDance involving a cabaret singer walking heavily on stilts that made her look statuesque but also kind of resembled leg braces). It’s like beauty and ugliness can co-exist in the same body, the same act, informing, adding layers of meaning to the other, making you re-think your definitions of each (so deconstructing their binary opposition, then. That questioned duality was more profound, though, in DecaDance than here). At other times, the dancers would run, lash out against each other or the air, kick, reach, grab. At times, they would stand in a huddle, all facing the audience, like at the begininning of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, but instead of changing from one movement to the next smoothly, they’d do so jerkily — first hands in prayer, then covering their eyes, then wiping their faces, then clutching at their chests as if in heartache, or to ensure their hearts were still beating, someone would fall, without being caught, another would be thrown out of line by an imaginary force (or one you couldn’t see anyway), the group would disperse.
The harshness of the movements, the jerkiness of the changing gestures, was really interesting and marked this different from anything I’ve ever seen. Now that I’m writing about it, thinking of it in contrast to Revelations, I’m starting to like it more, oddly.
In the last quarter of the piece, a man’s voice counts from one to ten repeatedly in Hebrew (I think). The dancers, mainly moving in unison in ensemble, not partnering, made a different shape for each number. They’d do the same phrase — the same shape for each number as the voice-over counted, many times, repeating the prior number each time he started anew (so, “one. one, two. one, two, three. one, two, three, four”, etc.). This too reminded me of a segment in DecaDance where a voice-over told a little story, adding to the story bit by bit and the dancers did a unique movement for each line of the story, repeating the whole each time the story would begin again. Both phrase and story would have more and more meaning as the story grew. But these repeated phrases seemed to grow more in meaning with the story, though, than with the simple counting here, unless those numbers, that counting had some significance that I didn’t get.
Anyway, it was very interesting — mainly left me feeling unsettled — which is likely how it feels to live in the Middle East right now. Not that everything by an Israeli company has to echo the current socio-political situation of course, but it’s hard not to think about those things. The dancers completely blew me away.
Batsheva’s on through March 7th; go here for more info and to watch a video. And if you go, let me know what you think. I’m very open to different interpretations!