Xanthe Van Opstal in Ohad Naharin's "Naharin's Virus." (Photo by Christopher Duggan)
Batsheva thrives in its own universe. It’s one that some may find off-putting, but most, including myself, find it endless intriguing.
That’s because this Israeli dance company has its own language. It has eschews the steps of conventional ballet and modern dance and steeps itself in its artistic director’s invention of Gaga. Ohad Naharin created it and teaches it to his dancers and the result is a dance that looks wild, aggressive, determined and compelling. While their movement can appear spastic, it’s feels like it must be realized. Instead of the dancer controlling the body, the body is controlling the dancers.
No one can look away.
For some American audiences, who prefer to be entertained, a Naharin dance can be baffling. That seems to be the case this week, Jacob’s Pillow where Batsheva – The Young Ensemble is performing “Naharin’s Virus.” The evening-length work from 2001 is an adaptation of Peter Handke’s play “Offending the Audience.”
Right from the start, narrator/dancer Evyatar Omesy tells the audience what they will see is not what they expect. He then turns the focus on the audience – talking about our mutual preparations to arrive at the theater, how we are seated in patterns and how we are facing them and sitting in the dark. It becomes clear that “Naharin’s Virus” is as much about the audience as it is the performers. And regardless of who we are, Omesy tells us “we are welcome.”
It takes time before the dancers arrive. One, Shir Levy, has been there from the start, drawing on a stage-long chalkboard. When she is joined by others, they gather in clusters of twos and threes as if scrutinizing each other with a sniff. Then 11 move forward to the edge of the stage and unleash their Gaga power. Standing in a line, one-by-one, they fling their heads, limbs and bodies about violently. And then snap back, straight as soldiers waiting to be inspected.
While this is going on, others frantically write out “PLASTELIN” on the chalkboard.
During the quieter moments or while listening to the narrator, I question what this is all about. I long for them to dance again, to wield their electric passion. And when they do, the questions melt away. There is only the dance and the Batsheva dancer.
Ultimately, “Naharin’s Virus” is about all of us – the audience and the performer. It’s about how we, as individuals with foibles and warts, come together to play a part in a collective experience. In our divisive culture, this notion of shared responsibility, is a strong message.
But then again, who knows. Batsheva travels in it’s own, infinitely fascinating universe that few can fathom, but many enjoy.