"Do I dare disturb the universe?"
~T.S. Eliot

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Looking back on Batsheva

I went to see Batsheva Dance Co. at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre over a month ago, and I thought I missed my opportunity to blog on this experience. I've just started my Spring Break, though, and realized that despite the immediate impact of images fading, writing on a performance, or at least pieces of it, is always fulfilling. It helps me understand and define my own aesthetic, and reconsider aspects that didn't appeal to me at first viewing. I also came home to find the Batsheva review by Sid Smith in the Chicago Tribune that had been saved for me.

Batsheva performed "Deca Dance," which is an ever-evolving conglomeration of various pieces that Ohad Naharin has choreographed. The piece of the program that I was hoping that Batsheva would present, and was so incredibly excited that they did, was the "Echad Mi Yodea" segment. I have seen this piece twice before, both performed by Hubbard Street in "Minus 16." This piece, which utilizes the accumulative nature of the music (an intense rock-version of a Hebrew children's/traditional song). Sixteen chairs are set in a semi-circle, and the dancers perform a seemingly simple but wildly specific accumulation in time with the music. One chair is left empty for a dancer that is slowly walking around the semi-circle, and one dancer consistently falls to the ground, over and over again. The most striking part, for me, is the end of the "chorus," when the dancers jump up to a strong parallel stance and chant along with the music. ("Shebashamaim, uva'aretz," actually meaning "In the heavens and on earth," ironically enough, against the severity of the music.) Something about the accuracy, musicality, strength, and piercing focus makes this piece come alive for me, and it is truly one of my favorite works of art. While Smith, in the Tribune review, mentions the presense of the audience-participation section, also performed by Hubbard Street as part of "Minus 16," (which I agree, is definitely a clever crowd-pleaser) I was surprised he didn't mention this brilliant piece.

I agree with Smith, when he acknowledges the tiresome repetition of the excerpt of the piece set to lines by poet Charles Bukowski. I admit, this was not my favorite, and I'm surprised they chose to perform two pieces with an accumulative structure, especially when the first one was so strong (and memorable, for Chicago-audiences, at least). The "gritty" lines, as Smith put it, didn't do anything for me. I was impressed, however, by the dancers' ability to repeat the same movement, in a way that was recognizably the same movement, but at the same time, not truly a mechanical carbon copy.

I was also excited that Batsheva performed sections from "Shalosh," or, "Three," which I had seen in Tel Aviv this summer. The section they performed is one of sheer athleticism, along with grace, boldness, and passion for movement. Toward the end of the piece, the dancers align themselves in one of three lines, the front dancer taking a moment to solo or do something showy before moving to the back of the line. The solos escalated to a point of what to me represented almost forced, self-afflicted violence or humiliation, as they pulled up their shirts or even unzipped flies (Smith says, "innocently," though I got more of the sense of dangerous naivety). To me, it was as if they were a part of a competition, almost a mock-reality show, and the rivalry and ridiculousness get out of control. The presence and honesty it must have taken to perform this is admirable.

While there were definitely many other mentionable moments like the incredible performance of the soloist who improvised for 20 minutes or more before the show opened, the intriguing women of Naharin's "B/olero," or the various sensual duets both, male, and male with female partners. Truly, their athleticism and artistry never fails to inspire me.

Some things of disappointment, however, were the quite visible and definitely audible protesters outside the theatre, denouncing the Company for its government's military actions, and calling for a complete boycott of everything Israeli. I find this action to be, first of all, inappropriate, and second, counterproductive. While Batsheva is an Israeli company that is proud of their people and culture, they are not representative of every political opinion (of which there are many!). It upset me so deeply that artists would be targeted by this blind and unfocused anger. Coming to my second point, it is the artists--the dancers, musicians, actors, painters, and poets--who can bring people together for shared experiences of compassion. If we cannot share art with each other, how can we share peace?