Getting personal

In Ohad Naharin's 'Sahad 21,' Batsheva dancers are accredited participants in the creative process.

By ORI J. LENKINSKI
April 28, 2011 19:30
3 minute read.
Batsheva

Batsheva 311. (photo credit: courtesy)

 
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In May, the annual Israel Festival will kick off a boatload of shows and activities. This year, a number of seriously acclaimed dance companies will make their way to Jerusalem as part of the festival, including the final world tour of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and the first visit of Danish Dance Theater to Israel.

Though the festival hosts major dance troupes from abroad each year, the highlight of the annual Israel Festival program often hails from the local Batsheva Dance Company. In fact, the festival seems to be BDC’s favorite venue to premiere new work.

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Two years ago during the festival, Ohad Naharin released Hora, which is currently touring internationally. This year, Naharin gives us Sadeh21.

For more than two decades, dancers and dance lovers from around the globe have flocked to south Tel Aviv to spend time near Naharin, whom they believe to be a true artistic genius. Since 1990, he has firmly held the reins of Israel’s largest dance ensemble, steadily guiding them into every international spotlight imaginable. His breakthrough movement technique, Gaga, has won its place in schools and studios from New York to Tokyo.

Shortly before the Pessah holiday, Batsheva opened their doors to a small group of friends and press to give a sneak peak at Sadeh21. There was excitement in the air, perhaps due to the many rumors about changes in the creative infrastructure of the company during the process of this work.

If you are familiar with Batsheva, you may find a small surprise in the program notes. For the first time, the dancers of the company are listed as collaborators of Naharin’s. Though the philosophy of the company is to enable each performer to enhance their creative gifts, those talented individuals are not given such credit in the playbill. Though Naharin remained nearly silent for the 90-odd minutes of the meeting, when he spoke it was about this shift in the inner workings of his gang. Toward the end of the presentation, he commented, “The dancers have always been an important part of the creative process. In this piece, even more so.”

Naharin explained that for Sadeh21, he started at the end. Once he felt that the dancers understood his vision, he allowed them to create freely, using their own ideas and interpretation of the big picture. “I gave them a lot of responsibility. We have a daily dialogue about choices. I let them decide things; I don’t have to agree with them. But a large part of the things that happen in this piece are products of their choices and decisions, not only in the movement language but also in the organization and atmosphere,” he said. “I am investing in clarifying the significance of the dancer in the creative process.”

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Though the 20 dancers of the company were not wearing special costumes, dancing to choppy bits of music Naharin DJ’ed from the back of the room, the overall picture was complete. It could even be argued that the bare-bones nature of this studio showing was to the great advantage of the company, as their dancers everyday dance clothes would impress the most staunch fashion critic. Unlike many recent Batsheva works, the dancers were in almost constant physical contact with one another; they held hands, lifting one another and collided with the utmost delicacy. Grouped in duos, trios, quartets and quintets, the performers seemed to be illustrating moments in their own lives, at times lonely, at times suffocated by those that surrounded them. In one memorable vignette, veteran dancers Guy Shomroni and Rachel Osborne heaved each other throughout the space as the remaining 18 dancers formed a circle, slowly revolving as if in a halftime hora.

Though every Batsheva piece has its own statement, Sadeh21 seems to be infinitely more personal than previous works, both to Naharin and to his amazing cast.

The Batsheva Dance Company will premiere Sadeh21 on May 25, 26 and 27 at The Jerusalem Theater (www.israel-festival.org.il). For more information about Batsheva shows, visit www.batsheva.org.il.

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