Karen and Steve and I have seen the Israeli Batsheva Dance Company many times - - it’s always a thrilling experience. We saw them at BAM on 11/13, they were doing a piece from 2011, *Sadeh 21*. “Sadeh” is a Hebrew word for “field”, and the work is (loosely) in 21 sections. One of the most thrilling things about the work of their chief choreographer and artistic director Ohad Naharin is that he doesn’t create movement in a gender-specific way, the men and women all dance with the same strength and lyricism. The piece opened with dancers coming out one at a time doing a minute or two of solo, abstract dancing. The woman who opened the piece was extraordinary - - all eighteen dancers are extraordinary, but I can see why he chose her to open the piece. This opening section featured a lot of jerky movement, and she executed it brilliantly. Each solo started with the dancer walking onstage and then starting to dance when he/she got center stage. The opening dancer and the next dancer treated the dancing as an interruption of the walking, which was delightful. I wish he had done it that way with all the dancers. The tempo of the dancing was pretty consistent, but one female dancer moved very slowly - - it was hypnotic. The dancers have such incredible strength and control.
Eventually there were two or more dancers onstage at the same time. At one point one of the tall, lanky male dancers slowly walked onstage with one of the women draped over his shoulder. She was wearing a halter leotard that left her back bare - - it was menacing. Eventually he put her down and she did her thing. That section ended with her coming to the front of the stage and speaking: “Five. Three, one, one. Two, two, one. Four, one.” Et cetera. Five dancers came onstage and illustrated what she was saying: they were all grouped together - - three of them were together, with the other two off on their own - - two and two with one on the side, etc. It was fascinating, and evolved in the most extraordinary way: the numbers were generally illustrated by their placement on the stage, but later they were all standing together and the numbers were illustrated by their movement - - like “four, one” had four dancers standing still and the fifth dancer moving around. This is hard to explain, but it was the highlight of the piece.
Naharin always works in some humor in his pieces. There was a moment in this piece where a woman was sitting on the floor. She put her legs together and in the air, holding her legs up with her arms, forming a V. Then, in this position, she scooted on her butt across the stage to the guy standing there. It was amusing. Then she continued scooting until he was scooted off the stage. More about him in a minute. At another moment one of the male dancers pulled down the pants of one of the female dancers, who was wearing striped underwear. This might have been upsetting in another piece, but it was playful in this one.
OK, back to that guy who was scooted offstage. He had come out onstage and stood alone, in the center. He started speaking, but it wasn’t like any language I’d ever heard. It’s like he was saying things but leaving out the consonants. Plus he was speaking in falsetto. It was peculiar, and went on for quite a while. There were dancers behind him, and I found myself focusing on them, not on him. I was kinda glad that he was scooted offstage by the female dancer.
Another uncomfortable sequence: most of the music was abstract electronic music, sort of menacing and lacking in rhythm. One long sequence was a recording of a woman screaming. At first it sounded just like screaming, but eventually I realized it was vocally based - - there was a design to her screaming. But still, Karen and I were both unglued by it, we didn’t know if we could take much more of it, it was hard to watch the dancing. And I’m a huge fan of horror movies!
The flip side of this sequence was an earlier sequence to boppy up-tempo music with most of the women “dancing” to it, sort of an arty version of how you’d dance at a club. And the men came in one by one behind them, wearing black strapless cocktail dresses, flailing about wildly. It was so full of energy and joy. I should say something about the design: their costumes were muted tops and muted velvet shorts at the start, brightly colored shorts later on, and this sequence with the men in black dresses (they changed back into their usual outfits later). The set was an eight- or ten-foot wall along the back and short walls on the side, with openings for the dancers’ entrances and exits. The lighting was gorgeous - - cool bluish white, acid green, dull grey.
There was a sequence in the middle where a pair of dancers were doing something together, and three others were behind them, holding hands and walking in a circle. Another dancer came onstage and joined the circle - - eventually all eighteen members of the company were walking in the circle. It was so simple, and had such impact. It was intensely moving.
This is how the performance ended. Remember the guy who did the speaking in the strange language? He appeared at the top of the wall along the back of the stage. He stood up, standing on the top of the wall. He stood there for a bit and then effortlessly fell back, disappearing from view. Other dancers appeared on the top of the wall, one by one, and fell back, some facing forward, some back. Eventually some leapt or did something extravagant. It was touching, amusing, fascinating. Eventually the ending credits started rolling on the wall, something I’d never seen in a live performance before. The words “The End” came on, the last dancer leapt off the wall, and the audience applauded like mad. The house lights came up, we continued to applaud, and the dancers never came onstage for a bow. Most unusual.