Batsheva: *Yag,* May 31, 2021
I saw a filmed performance by the Batsheva Dance Company online on May 31, 2021 (it was filmed in October 2020 and dropped online on May 27). I’ve seen Batsheva probably about ten times, I think I’d say they’re my favorite dance company. They’re an Israeli company led by artistic director Ohad Naharin, and every piece of seen of theirs I’ve seen has had choreography by Naharin. His development reminds me of Pedro Almodóvar: their early work had a fair amount of wackiness and whimsy, which gradually let in some darker elements and developed into something rich, profound, and full of human complexity.
The film was called *Yag.* It was a family story featuring six dancers: Hani Sirkis, Londiwe Khoza, and Sean Howe as the three children, Yael Ben Ezer and Igor Ptashenchuk as their parents, and Yoni Simon as Yael’s father, the grandfather. These relationships were explained in an opening monologue by Hani. Each of the six dancers had a monologue. I’m not used to a dance piece where the dancers speak, it always gives me a little thrill. The casting was abstract: the dancers bore no resemblance to each other and they all appeared to be somewhere in their 30s.
The recurring refrain was, “Once my family really, really, really loved to dance.” The dancing was as expressive and abstract as the drama, and both were matched by the choice of music, at first a piece from *Naked City* by John Zorn. Eventually we moved on to the Jussi Bjoerling recording of “Una furtiva lagrima” from Donizetti’s *L’Elisir d’Amore,* which was of course a treat for me. The surprising thing about their use of this aria is they faded it out at the end and faded into more Zorn. It took me a while to figure out that was going on, I thought it was sounds coming through my window in the apartment.
Hani came onstage at one point with a bag over her shoulder. The bag was full of fortune cookies, which she placed in a diagonal line across the stage. Yoni came on stage and slowly walked along that line, crushing the fortune cookies under his bare feet. He was followed by Igor. The other dancers came on, they all started dancing over the entire stage, and the little pieces of fortune cookies were everywhere. I’m generally not a fan of this theatrical technique, which I call Make a Mess. From my point of view, it’s not drama, it’s just a mess. But in this case it worked. I don’t know why, but it definitely added to the drama. The final piece of music was a piece for lute by John Taverner.
The ending was disturbing. It had the father figure being punished. I didn’t quite understand why, or even exactly what was going on, which made it more upsetting.
Batsheva performances often involve some sort of audience participation. In this case, that was done by having the dancers sometimes look directly into the camera. It was disconcerting. The film was directed by Naharin, and the camera work was generally unobtrusive, in the classic Hollywood musical style of filming dance, where you see the whole body in the frame and have very little cutting from shot to shot. This gave great impact to the few moments where he had a close-up or where the shot was framed in a way to give focus to one particular element. I know this film probably originated as something for Naharin and the company to do during the pandemic, but I do hope they’ll do more films.