Entering Sadler’s Wells theatre on Monday was like boarding a plane. Batsheva Ensemble’s UK tour has been plagued by protests and this performance was no exception with planted protesters disrupting the live performance using anti-Israel slogans. I intend to put the ugliness to one side and focus on the actual work.
Batsheva Ensemble is the younger wing of the larger Batsheva Dance Company, Israel’s premier contemporary dance company. The group is made up of 16 dancers aged 18 to 24 and is a recruiting ground for the senior company, and a platform into many other prestigious companies internationally.
Deca Dance is a retrospective compilation of work from 20 years of Artistic Director Ohad Naharin’s career. Despite the fact Deca Dance was conceived in 2000, the show constantly reinvents itself based on the repertoire of the senior company and this evening featured samples of repertoire from 1985 to 2007.
The compilation format isn’t integrated. Separation is maintained between the pieces and whilst it’s nice to see a range of work the combination doesn’t give a new slant or angle to the body of work as a whole. From the start, it is audience-pleasing. Pre-show provides one of the most captivating moments. A male dancer acts as host improvising to generic background music, combining a mixture of contemporary, ballet, voguing, popping, Latin, musical and social dance as he welcomes the audience in. Of course with queues and bag checks the show took at least half an hour longer to start and by the end the dancer, who probably expected to be dancing for about five minutes, was sweating buckets.
The choreography is often very outwardly focused, using gaze as a direct address alongside large energetic, highly-articulated gestures and movements and bassy, often popular music. In one scene the dancers perform gestures in unison whilst sustaining huge grins and facing front. I suppose its down to personal preference, but I often find myself held at arms length by dance that so consciously comes to meet me. Others will of course have enjoyed it, evidenced by the standing ovation at the end of the night.
Perhaps the clearest example of coming to meet the audience was in the second half when the dancers descended into the stalls to pick audience members to join them on stage, dancing for them and with them. Offering them every young dancer’s dream as they stood staring out at an applauding full house at Sadler’s Wells.
The night culminated with Naharin’s greatest hit, an iconic image from an earlier work called Zachacha in which the dancers arch up from a semi-circle of chairs in canon. It’s an image with satisfying strength.
Often Naharin’s choreography is not to my personal taste. I often shy away from the excessive outward-projection and the arbitrary use of referential gestures. It is however an enjoyable and satisfying show, coming into its own especially in the second half. Deca Dance is full of vitality and impact, provided by its dancers who skilfully maintain the pace and energy despite disruptions from the house. The young cast are fluid and articulate as they explore the full depth and range of their movements.
Though Batsheva was founded by Martha Graham using her particular dance technique, Naharin has pioneered a new technique which forms the bedrock of the company’s dance and company class: Gaga technique. Gaga focuses less on form and instead proposes ways of thinking about performance and movement and marrying creativity and technique. It is fantastic to see a company so actively promoting creativity in performance, encouraging the dancers to make a new experience from each repetition of the repertoire.