By Jane Rosenberg
Los Angeles, CA. The opening of Sadeh21, choreographed by Ohad Naharin, artistic director of Batsheva Dance Company, appears to be about the individual – about personal inclination manifesting itself in quirks, ticks, thrusts, and abrupt changes of direction. One by one, dancers enter the stage and display their own particular brand of movement in front of a low gray expanse of wall. This segment, entitled Sadeh1 (Sadeh means field, as in field of study), could be interpreted as a catalogue of Naharin’s dance movement system called “Gaga” and the introduction to a series of twenty-one movement sequences.
As I understand it, in Naharin’s dance language, an idea is suggested to the dancer who then interprets it in his or her own way, creating an individual vocabulary of movement. Naharin dedicates Sadeh21 to Noa Eshkol, creator of a rigorous movement notation system using “symbols and numbers to define the motion of any limb around its joint.” A system that can “describe virtually every perceptible movement of the body.” While Eshkol (who died in 2007 at the age of 83) sought to find the essence of common movement, Naharin seems to embrace the idiosyncrasies of individual movement. He is aided in this investigation by the talents of an athletic and committed troupe of dancers.
During the seventy-five minutes of Sadeh21, when movements are done in harmony by the group, the results are startling and insightful; at other times, when movements are done in isolation by the individual, they become incomprehensible and grow monotonous. One dancer, twittering in a display of jerking body parts, holds limited interest. But when a line of female dancers, as in Sadeh5, engage in gawkish disco dancing to music that sounds like a robotic tango, then you’ve got my attention. The women, dressed in spandex shorts and deep in thought, dance on, oblivious to men, arrayed in black taffeta strapless gowns, who leap, roll, and lunge behind them. The meaning is vague – perhaps it has to do with listening to one’s inner voices – but the scene is forceful and compelling.
There is a vagueness that permeates the entire piece. Without context, the audience is at sea. Though the set is minimal, the dancing is complex; but there are few clues to what the movement is about. The most I could come up with is that Naharin might be interested in a kind of alternate view of our species from an animalistic, tribal, physically handicapped, or futuristic perspective. His music choices range from Brian Eno to screaming voices with some Jun Miyake sprinkled in. The screaming voices add confusion rather than context (in one arrangement a lone dancer stands at the front of the stage and cries out a continuous jumble of words as if mentally incapacitated), and since there isn’t enough music to offer rhythmic structure we are once again in limbo, unsure of where we are.
One satisfying section appears to have a political component. Linking arms, a row of men dance, moving in slow motion to what sounds like heroic film music. Their legs rotate in synchronization, carving steps out of space. When they separate, their arms, now free, go through a series of movements. The men no longer appear peaceful as their gestures assume a military aspect.
But these insights are few in an evening that seems to celebrate the anxious maneuverings of the human body. It is the close of the piece that is the most exhilarating. With the gray backdrop, now serving as a scaffold for action, a figure appears, crawling into view from the hidden side of the wall and mounts the top. Standing and facing us for a moment, the dancer then falls backwards and out of sight to the surprise of the audience. He is followed by a succession of dancers who leap off the wall (and out of view) in varying positions. Is it a euphoric investigation of flight, escape, suicide, or anarchy? Not sure, but here we have context: the wall (architecture whether literal or symbolic) and desire (for escape or joy), all wrapped up in Naharin’s individualized movement system. Now there’s a winning combination.
(To read a previous Rosenberg review of a performance of Noa Eshkol’s work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art click HERE.)
Batsheva Dance Company performs Sadeh21 tonight and tomorrow (Sat. & Sunday Nov. 1 and 2) in a Cap UCLA concert at Royce Hall.
Photos courtesy of Batsheva Dance Company.
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To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.
Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets. Jane is also the author and illustrator of SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children