Karen, Steve, and I saw Batsheva Young Ensemble at the Joyce Theater on 9/30. This was my fifth or sixth performance by the Batsheva Dance Company, an incredible company from Israel. Karen and Steve turned me onto them, and I try to go to every performance they do. I’ve now decided I will NEVER miss one of their performances.
The show opened with a single male dancer doing loose-limbed dancing to Perez Prado recordings. Prado is the bomb, I was thrilled that the show featured so much Prado. He was wearing a black suit with a light blue tank top (Karen and I decided it was a *Miami Vice* kind of look). He did his thing all alone for about fifteen minutes, while people took their seats, then one by one the other dancers came onstage, nine men and nine women. They were all doing variations on a skittish, ants-in-the-pants kind of movement. They eventually started doing coordinated movements. The artistic director of Batsheva is choreographer Ohad Naharin, a genius. He has an extraordinary sense of how to deal with lots of people on the stage, something not every choreographer or director knows how to manage. Naharin leads the eye to what we should watch, or just leaves us to decide for ourselves.
The company was billed as the Young Ensemble, young dancers in a two-year sort of apprentice program with Batsheva. The senior Batsheva ensemble is made up almost entirely of graduates of the Young Ensemble. The program we saw was *Decadance*, a mixed program of selected excerpts from ten pieces by Naharin. The pieces were assembled thoughtfully, with an ebb and flow that made the whole thing feel fresh and seamless.
The next section of the performance featured the dancers wearing T-shirts or tank tops in muted colors, and pants in other muted colors. Each of the eighteen dancers appeared to have gotten a solo at some point in the evening, some of them featured more than others. Every single one of them had dazzling abilities, every one of them had mastered the mixture of precision and expression that Naharin’s choreography demands.
Another costume change for the third section: back to black suits, but now with white shirts and black slouchy fedoras. More Perez Prado, which made my heart sing. The dancing was full of wit, I had a severe case of perma-grin. Then the house lights went up and the dancers came into the audience and chose random people in the audience to come onto the stage and dance with them. The tone shifted from wit to outright joy peppered with occasional hilarity. Karen and I were particularly taken with a woman in a red cardigan at the back of the stage, she was having a great time. One by one the audience members were guided off the stage, leaving only a woman in her 70s (or 80s) wearing a yellow jacket and a long black skirt. The song was “Sway” by Dean Martin (“When marimba rhythms start to play / Dance with me / Make me sway”). She and the young man from Batsheva were slow dancing together, the other dancers circling around them, watching them. At one point the Batsheva dancer took one of her hands and placed it on the back of his neck, so they could nuzzle closer. It was funny, and also unbearably touching! The dance ended, the dancers fell to the floor, and the woman in the yellow jacket was the only person standing on the stage. Screaming applause from the audience.
There was a short transition while the stagehands brought out eighteen folding chairs. This was a piece that Karen and Steve saw in their first Batsheva performance, and they hoped that it would be included. It was intense and incredibly powerful, the flip side of the whimsical piece we had seen before it. Naharin uses many of the same elements as Mark Morris - - they both treat the male dancers and female dancers as equals, and they have a similar brilliance for staging interesting patterns. But Naharin is more playful, and at the same time more powerful. Morris is more rooted in the ballet tradition, Naharin is more of an innovator. I can’t choose one over the other, I need to have both.
The evening ended with a thirty-minute piece, the dancers wearing their muted cottons again. It started with most of the dancers onstage, divided into pairs. A dancer would be matching the movement of one other dancer and then shift his/her allegiance to another dancer - - and five, six, or more patterns happening at the same time. It was fascinating to watch, and, as with a few pieces that evening, the music didn’t appear to have any literal (meaning rhythmic) relationship to the dancing, which created a stimulating extra layer of depth. By this point in the evening we had gotten to know more or less each of the eighteen dancers, gotten to see their distinctive personalities, and this piece really showed them off as individuals.
Two men did a tender duet, it was lovely. A long section featured three lines of dancers: the dancer at the front of the line did a particular movement, then the next dancer did the same movement - - meanwhile the two other lines of dancers went through the same process, with their own set of timing, and their own unrelated movement. Sometimes a movement would be done by two dancers in the same line, sometimes it would be done by all five, or anything in between. It was abstract, but expressive, and so thoughtfully put together. Karen put it perfectly: a Batsheva performance is intellectually satisfying.