Stepping in

Batsheva Dance Company performs Kamuyot, a piece that uses non-traditional performance space to blur the lines between dancer and observer.

dance kamuyot 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
dance kamuyot 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot isn’t your average family-friendly dance. It’s not built on fanciful fairy tales or familiar children’s stories, like the ballet classic The Nutcracker or modern dance renderings of Peter and the Wolf.  In fact, it’s not based on any narrative at all. But the Batsheva Ensemble’s production, which will be performed on Saturday, April 17 at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv, is a uniquely engaging work that lives up to its billing as “a piece for children aged 6 to 90.”
Based on material from Naharin’s Mamootot and Moshe, both of which were created for more typical adult audiences, Kamuyot premiered in 2003 and has since entertained crowds across the country and around the world. Indeed, for the past few years, an international cast has toured Sweden in a popular joint production with the Riksteatern, while last season the Batsheva Ensemble brought Kamuyot to children in Rwanda. 
This widespread success lies in large part in the special bond between performers and viewers that the work establishes from the outset. For starters, Kamuyot trades the traditional theater setting for the more informal, intimate studio space. Like the children and adults who have arrived to watch the show, the dancers gradually filter into the studio and find their seats on long benches that line all four sides of the room. Some even interact with people sitting around them, smiling broadly and chatting amiably. These performers are approachable rather than untouchable; in fact, in their prep-school inspired white shirts, plaid pants, and pleated skirts, Kamuyot’s young cast members could be the friendly teenagers next door.
The dynamic connection between the performers and the audience is maintained once the dance itself begins. Kamuyot’s eclectic score – ranging from quirky electronica to nostalgic Americana and from Japanese rock to mellow reggae – kicks off with a rousing rendition of Lou Reed’s “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together,” setting the tone for a performance that’s more interactive than most. Besides moving back and forth between their spots on the sidelines and the open space in the center, the dancers invite viewers to join them in a series of inventive postures and later walk around the perimeter, gazing softly into audience members’ eyes and occasionally taking a viewer’s hand.
Even when there’s not direct physical interaction between Kamuyot’s performers and spectators, a spirit of lively interplay among everyone present prevails. At one point, the dancers gamely address the challenge of being surrounded by the audience and pointedly cater to each row of viewers. To a rocking version of Bobby Freeman’s song “Do You Wanna Dance,” the cast jumps through a fast-paced phrase, strikes a pose, and then sprints to the next side of the studio to start all over again. In such a small area, every twinkle in their eyes and dimple in their cheeks is visible, revealing the dancers’ pleasure in captivating the crowd.
The Batsheva Ensemble’s ebullient energy is infectious, and in thissquare space, the audience’s enthusiastic responses are equallycontagious. Seen up close, the performers’ soaring, unbridled leaps anda few daring acrobatic feats elicit gasps from viewers of all ages.Other gestures – two men waving their tongues in the air, or one mansmacking his face, thumping his thighs, and drumming on his chest –prompt giggles from children which soon spread to their parents.Moments of contact with the dancers frequently spur happy grins and astream of excited whispers. And don’t be surprised if the end of theshow induces ardent applause and even a dance party, with kids spillingfrom the bleachers to try out their own moves in the center of theroom.
That’s the magic of Kamuyot. Naharin’s work eschewsthe storybook characters and wondrous stagecraft of so many productionsgeared towards families, but the one-of-a-kind experience it fosterspossesses its own attraction – and this spell works its charms onchildren and adults alike.
The Batsheva Ensemble performs Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot inStudio Varda at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv on Saturday,April 17 at 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Tickets (70 NIS) are available at03-5104037