Seeing the Batsheva Dance Company, under the leadership of the iconic Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, always feels like a treat, so I am pleased to see the company in excellent form on the occasion of the US premiere of their 2011 production, Sadeh21, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (2014 Next Wave Festival).

© Stephanie Berger
© Stephanie Berger
While Naharin is globally known – within the dance community– for Gaga, his singular and distinctive approach to training and creating movement, which he has developed over the years, what is invariably refreshing about seeing the work he sets on his company is the strong individuality that emanates from the dancers, in spite of the grounding training they all have in common. Indeed, I believe it is Naharin’s willingness to encourage his dancers’ idiosyncrasies that endows his works with a powerfully humanistic affect.

In Sadeh21, Naharin presents the spectators with a montage of choreographic vignettes developed in collaboration with his dancers. With an extremely sparse set-up – there isn’t much to the décor other than a large box or a room with a few entrances on either side and a low wall in the rear – the stage operates as a blank canvas on which various images are thrown, transformed and dismantled. Some images dwell in abstraction and are rather wide open for interpretation, not really concerned with interaction but rather with kinesthetic relationships between bodies on the stage, while others are rooted in recognizable behavioral moments – be it a tentative kiss, a fist fight, or a pool party gone wild. Often, multiple narratives (or events) unfold simultaneously, under Avi Yona Bueno’s evocative lighting, which effectively transforms the space from a mundane daylit room, to a chilly moonlit night, to some long, golden, autumnal shadows – all the way to a neon disco glow.

Zina Zinchenko and Bobbi Smith. Batsheva © Stephanie Berger
Zina Zinchenko and Bobbi Smith. Batsheva
© Stephanie Berger
I would be hard pressed to say that this work is overtly concerned with a narrative. And yet, these intensely expressive bodies have stories trapped inside their flesh. The dancers have the uncanny ability to deliver a physicality that is playful as much as it is tormented, creating a tension on stage that compels one to lean in and engage with what is unfolding on the boards. Within the apparent chaos, fragments of stories emerge – of conflict, tenderness, togetherness, loss... The stage box becomes a metaphorical aquarium, a microcosmic rendition of the world, in which the spectators become endowed with a god-like ability to see entire lives unfolding in time lapse. It’s a mighty difficult feat to accomplish – but, once again, the Batsheva company pulls it off, and fearlessly so.

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