Crossing a Picket Line in front of Harris Theater
With the passions of the BOYCOTT BATSHEVA protesters seeming to cling to the air, it was going to take a lot to grab our attention and focus on dance.
We were there to see Batsheva Dance Company’s Artistic Director and lead choreographer, Ohad Naharin, receive the yearly Ruth Page Award and to watch the company perform his provocatively titled “Last Work”, which he later explained isn’t their “last” work at all—just a very good attention-grabbing title.
No such attention-grabbing add-ons were needed. Immediately, at the opener, we take in the woman running in the background, a living metronome for the dance to follow. Quite the marathon, her pace is steady and creates the constant beat frame.
Perhaps it is the articulation of the dancers’ arms that first stuns. It’s the rare dance work that doesn’t put a spotlight on joints moving still to smooth, or somewhere in between. This was something else again‑a movement that seemed to start from somewhere else in the dancers’ bodies. Later, after he received the Ruth Page Award, Naharin did explain that this is precisely what we are seeing, viz. his coaching to the dancers to bring forth movements from more distal focal points or generalized soma.
Kosher-style Tai Chi
Naharin has named this Gaga dance. This writer came to think of it as a kosher-style Tai Chi. While Shakespeare famously said “First thing we do is kill all the lawyers”, Naharin says, with his exquisite choreography—
“First thing we do is smash all the mirrors!”
Naharin’s coaching and choreography style is all about getting the dancers to FEEL within instead of using mirrors or external feedback. That doesn’t even begin to explain it, especially to those of us who see a lot of experimental dance where the performers seem to forget that there are people watching. Why do they bore, while this excites?
Fueling this unique choreographic spirit are dancers’ bodies that are totally ready for primetime. They do not miss a beat—literally, figuratively.
Political imagery? or boycott-fueled mirage?
There is also some imagery included in this dance that leaves you puzzled. Why does one dancer appear with their head in a bag and body moving as if under attack? Why does the penultimate sequence involve duck taping the dancers in place such their final movements are mini-flails of their bonds? Was this a nod to the anti-Israel apartheid protesters with whom Naharin and other Batsheva Dance Company artists are reported to sympathize? Or is it an answer to them that their hands are tied? Or something else again and beyond, perhaps with zip to do with politics???
When the clapping was done, the awards given, and the post-show Q&A of Naharin concluded, it was a bit surprising to leave the theater to see that the protesters had gone home. They made their point, however. Knowing that Israeli artists of all types, who are perhaps the most reliable anti-occupation voices within Israel, are somewhat under attack by the Israeli Minister of Culture makes another point. It’s complicated, isn’t it?
Don’t miss Silk Road Rising’s important and timely series of play readings on this subject—“Semitic Commonwealth”. Read the Picture this Post preview here.
Stimulating music and dance performances continue at the Harris Theater. Check out the Harris Theater website for upcoming programming.