Batsheva Dance Company’s “Sadeh21″ at BAM
To be a Batsheva dancer, “you have to disappear.” Those were Bobbi Smith’s instructions to a room of students on Friday morning, as she led us through a section of a 2007 work called Max. Smith, a stunning dancer about as capable of disappearing as an elephant carved from rubies, demonstrated: one moment she was standing tall, poised, legs spread, chest wide; the next, she was doubled over to the left, her torso thrown askew by invisible horizontal forces.
To be a Batsheva dancer, “we don’t let gravity shape our movement.” In conversation with Wendy Perron, Ohad Naharin described those same horizontal forces as being a resistance to gravity. He demonstrated a collapse effected by gravity and said “there’s nothing wrong with collapsing like this, we just don’t do it.” When we see a dancer in his work collapse, we see a body refusing to yield, choosing instead to take the falling impulse in a new direction.
Impossible tasks (disappearance, antigravity) are realized in Naharin’s work. His movement language, gaga, embraces paradoxes and venerates discovery. “Gaga is a lot about creating keys to open up hidden treasures within dancers,” he says. “It makes it easy for you to give up your old ideas for better new ones.” In a master class led by Smith and Ian Robinson, another Batsheva member, we explored the idea that the only thing connecting our wrists was a thread—none of that pesky skeletal or muscular structure that could limit movement or length. We caressed our ribs with our own shoulderblades and floated on water.
Many of Naharin’s codes are perceptible in Sadeh21: accumulating gestures in a loop until a full movement phrase emerges, tossing dancers into one grouping after another, introducing each performer via wild solo, erecting bizarre tableaux, etc. His distinct movement vocabulary abounds in wild leaps, deep boneless pliés, clasped hands, and shapes that dissolve as though a hand has reached deep into the body of the dancer and yanked on some imaginary chain, draining the body of its filling.
Even as we recognize his work, it’s as unpredictable as ever. Rachael Osborne falls to the ground, I look for her, and she’s vanished, already on the other side of the stage. Mario Bermudez Gil yanks down Nitzan Ressler’s pants and she flexes her biceps, undeterred by exposure. Smith’s solo in a red leotard, flanked by a chorus of grooving ladies, is seductive not only because of its sultry choreography but because her every motion feels as though it has leapt out unbidden, uncontrolled. Her voice, coaching us in Max, echoes in my head: “it’s as if you don’t know when [the movement] is going to happen, and it just keeps happening over and over. It’s a surprise every time.” Sadeh21 is shocking, ugly, funny, awkward, raw, idiosyncratic, and beautiful. “Sometimes we forget we are animals,” Naharin says, but not after this. Not for a long time.