BATSHEVA'S MAX

(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!

This entry was posted in Dance Performance Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to BATSHEVA'S MAX

  1. Pingback: “MAX” - Connecting to Ohad Naharin’s Choreography | Dance In Israel

  2. viewer says:

    I am a native Hebrew speaker. For the record: There was no Hebrew on the sound track of MAX, and most of it did not even sound like Hebrew, except for the first segment, which sounded Hebrew in diction and accent, was was all gibberish. The rest was made to sound (and I have to assume was gibberish, too) like Russian, some Slavic language and/ or maybe a Scandinavian language. The counting was Latin-based, but was not Latin proper, and it certainly was not Hebrew.

  3. Meg says:

    The counting, to me, sounded like there was some Spanish and French in there, with a bit of Latin proper thrown in (“sex,” after all, is the Latin word for 6, which as far as I know isn't the case in any of the modern Romance languages). At the end of the day I think all that mattered is that they were recognizably numbers though.

  4. SwanLakeSambaGirl says:

    Thanks you guys. That's interesting. I don't know Hebrew (obviously) but knew it was a language I didn't know, although the numbers at first sounded to me like a combination of French and Spanish or Italian. But then I couldn't figure out why he was mixing them up (huit, for example was there but was not the eighth number, etc.), so I figured it wasn't a combination of languages, but was one I just didn't know. Now it makes sense that it wasn't actually a language but just meant to be gibberish, although I agree, Meg, that the voice was definitely meant to be counting numbers. It sounded like a countdown or something. At first I thought it was a countdown to the launching of a bomb or missile or something (maybe because I've recently seen Doctor Atomic) but then it became too comical and light for that. It's interesting to me though that it was all gibberish; I really thought the earlier parts were in a specific language. I wonder what he meant by putting it in “gibberish” — that you don't need a specific language to have meaning, that a certain intonation, along with movement still contains a kind of meaning, that humans don't need to speak the same language to connect? Hmmm. It's interesting.

  5. siupakcat says:

    I saw this in Bruges last weekend. What an endurance test of pretentious, self indugent nonsense. Of our group of four, three were finding it hard to suppress giggles at how silly it all was, and the fourth fell asleep!

    The “soundtrack” was annoying, minimal and rarely rhythmic or musical. The stage/lighting design minimal, and the performance really could have benefitted from some intentional humour. So you were left with just the movement…and in this case that was not enough.

    I even felt that the choreographer decided to have the dancers repeat their movements over and over (“Uno, Duo, Trea…”) simply to pad out the running time.
    Strangely, though, I don't regret going as I haven't laughed so much in ages, and we all had fun discussing and mimicking this “lets walk really slowly….THEN SPASM!” nonsense.

  6. siupakcat says:

    I saw this in Bruges last weekend. What an endurance test of pretentious, self indugent nonsense. Of our group of four, three were finding it hard to suppress giggles at how silly it all was, and the fourth fell asleep!

    The “soundtrack” was annoying, minimal and rarely rhythmic or musical. The stage/lighting design minimal, and the performance really could have benefitted from some intentional humour. So you were left with just the movement…and in this case that was not enough.

    I even felt that the choreographer decided to have the dancers repeat their movements over and over (“Uno, Duo, Trea…”) simply to pad out the running time.
    Strangely, though, I don't regret going as I haven't laughed so much in ages, and we all had fun discussing and mimicking this “lets walk really slowly….THEN SPASM!” nonsense.