REVIEW: Batsheva Dance Company’s “Hora” at BAM
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is tempting to be led headfirst into the implied meanings of a work entitled Hora.
But from the instant lights rise on an arresting neon green backdrop, I am thrown from any image of ancient circle dances I had conjured from the title. The voluminous space of the Howard Gilman Opera House at BAM is cut low by the dense color and a wooden bench spanning the back wall. The Batsheva Dance Company seems transported to a space altogther other-worldly. With deadpan but deadly focused faces, the dancers slowly walk forward in a straight line. When the army of eleven retreats again to the bench, short spurts of solos begin. We indulge in very “gaga” postures, walks, quirks and balances that are signature of the company. But before long they are all dancing in a flurry of unrelated chaos.
We cannot possibly watch them all. Just when the action seems overwhelming, choreographer Ohad Naharin gathers it in stillness. Dancers step slowly together and freeze profile to the audience with their arms outstretched, palms flopped limply. They hold an arm out diagonally in a strange salute. But there is a sense of vulnerability, like they are deer caught in a blaring headlight.
To add another unexpected element, Naharin sets Hora to beloved and often historically loaded music. Even if the intention is to add new context to well-known sound, the audience seems at ease with the choice. They giggle at how the choreography plays with Isao Tomita’s arrangements of “Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun,” “Space Fantasy” (from Space Odyssey), “Clair de Lune,” the Star Wars theme and “Die Walkure:Ride of the Valkyries,” to name a few. With sound we know, perhaps we are free to see more. Making endless hypotheses of meaning based on the epic soundtrack alone, we could miss what is in front of us. But compelling composition suggests we let it go.
Between sinuous outbursts of movement, striking images of war and struggle peek through. Some images stick: the women spin meditatively on their tailbones to the grandiose “Space Fantasy,” then collapse as the men walking through them, only on their knees. When the company is back on its feet, they charge in place only to be shot down to their backs, popcorn-style.They fall, then get up and the process repeats again and again. I am struck also by convulsive action, limbs shaking uncontrollably and heads nodding involuntarily. In a duet center-stage, the pair is so sporadic and staccato in movement that they are unable to embrace. Passing references, all, but essential.
Each Batsheva dancer shines in non-uniformity. There are very few phrases of movement that everyone performs. As they dance solo sections, we get to know their voices. Some carry themselves with strong sexuality. Some stress fragility, others solidity. They are a community, dialoguing at all different pitches.
While Naharin certainly delivers the beautiful, he challenges us with the darker moments of the piece. But the subtlety with which discomfort is interwoven allows it, too, to be gratifying. Social criticism, humor and intimacy are conveyed side-by-side. We know what we saw in Hora but it will take us days to know how we feel.