Friday, March 09, 2012

Batsheva Dance Company Tells Story Through Revelation

The internationally famous Batsheva Dance Company from Israel is coming to Chicago to the Auditorium Theatre later this month (ticket information below) . I watch the performers as they exhibit flawless execution and I ask, "What story are they telling?"

I spoke with Matan David, one of the troupe’s dancers and who is currently in New York City with the company. I asked him about the meaning and stories of their dance compositions. “It is hard to say as theatre and story. We work with emotions and feelings but not to show a story. The information is purely physical. The way we work - stories are created on their own and it is abstract.”

This past week they performed "Hora" in New York City. “It is a dance about the alternative meanings,” David told me. “The word “hora” can mean many things. For many it is an Israeli dance, it can also mean “hour” in Latin" (the dance is one hour). And the work doesn’t have the Hora circle dance in it. Clearly for Batsheva and its Director Ohad Naharin, meanings are subjectively multiple and come from the viewer’s perspective, even as they emerge for the performer.

Naharin, the Director of Batsheva Dance since 1990, has said. “Texture is one of the most meaningful things to me, in dancing…And for me the meaning comes out of recognizing those elements…the composition, the tension between the elements, the dynamics… that’s the meaning of the work; it comes out of there. That’s why you cannot tell a dance. And if you can tell a dance, it’s maybe not a very good danc.” (Susan Yung 2007 interview). Anna Kisselgoff of the NYTimes wrote, “He seems deliberately to leave interpretation to the audience. A more dubious appraisal might suggest the choreography is needlessly obscure in some cases.”

I continued my discussion with Matan David about “Max“ which will be performed in Chicago.  I continued to probe about story, but in a new way. I asked David about the story of Naharin and how he composed the music for “Max” under the pseudonym Maxim Warrat. He laughed and said, “That is very funny. Max is the alter ego of Naharin. He came into the studio one day and became Maxim Warrat the composer. It seemed like a joke. And the music came in with him each day we worked on it.” I asked if Naharin became someone else or more himself as Maxim and how his dual identities reminded me of Purim this past week, with the masks we wear to hide in order to play and let out another side of ourselves. “Yes, that is true," he said, "so “Max” is very theatrical and it came from the music. I always have people see “Max” first if they have never seen Batsheva. For me it is dark…the movement creates a distance. I love it. It is very influenced by Japanese movement and dance.”

In “Max” I saw the performers manipulate their bodies flawlessly through movements that were exacting, totally in sync and physically impeccable. I heard Hebrew and other languages or pseudo-language; and the musical tones evoked Jewish kinot, or mourning laments, which are chanted to remember exile and the ancient Temple’s destruction. I also saw in the dance other destructions and atrocities like Hiroshima and Nagasaki and through the purity of Batsheva’s movement I was brought to the universalism of the suffering of all humanity. The New York Times wrote about “Max,” “(It) produces a formal structure full of breath, as if the air around the dancers and not just the movement, is responsible for shifting the dynamic from mischievous to ominous. At times it’s balmy; in other moments it’s ice cold. Succinctly and mysteriously, “Max” zeros in, just as its press notes say, on the pleasure and pain of being alive.”

Dance critic Debra Cash writes about how their technique coming from a process called "Gaga" is integral to their composition, “The Company sums it up by calling it simply “a tool for creative thinking." As it says on their website, "We are aware of the distance between our body parts, we are aware of the friction between flesh and bones, we sense the weight of our body parts…we learn to appreciate understatement and exaggeration…We discover both the animal we are and the power of our imagination.” 

In this way the body is more body-in-pure-movement rather than a body with a dramatic story arc and context. As a contrast, in the recent Wim Wenders film about Pina Bausch, Pina, (which beautifully encompasses her aesthetic of dance and the Wuppertal Tanztheater) one sees dancers working in a totally different way, with all kinds of relationships emerging -- men to women, sensual to powerful, repetitive and Sisyphusean, environment to body, music to feeling, and youth to aging.

Unlike Pina, Naharin goes to the other end of the spectrum. Meaning and story are stripped away to show the purity of body and energy. The music lends a feeling of ritual. Unseen and powerful forces are the source for the movement and the dancer is an actor who is not in control and caught up in movements without intellectual or emotional awareness.

Batsheva is understood through the viewer’s perspective, what the dancer discovers, and how the pure movement on stage is an unformed revelation of movement -- as texture and the text.

Batsheva Dance Company Auditorium Theatre March 17 and 18, 2012 one weekend only. Tickets are on sale now and range from $30 - $90, available by phone at (800) 982-2787, at or in-person at ATRU’s box office. This engagement is made possible through the generous support of Seymour Persky.

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