Days after watching Batsheva Dance Company bring choreographer Ohad Naharin’s splendid full-evening work, “Sadeh21,” to vivid life in its U.S. premiere at the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, I am struck by the inadequacy of still photography in capturing the dance’s essence.
The benign ring-around-the-rosy image, above, does not represent the multi-chaptered dance, which is often tinged with high tension.
The camera click on the ring of dancers followed a long build-up. One by one, performers filtered onstage and linked hands in an ever-expansive circle. Is that brilliant choreography? Hell no, grade-school kids do it daily in the playground. But what I remember is how slooooow the tempo: slow as a heartbeat, lub-dub, eating gobs of time, as it rolled out. It allowed the viewer to not just gaze but (visually) graze . You didn’t just watch it, you lived it.
The rigor of tempi drove great swathes of “Sadeh,” as a compositional element. (Sustaining slowness, I would posit, a choreographer’s acid test.) As viewing, this pagaent proved an antidote to our relentless times — not to mention a “so there” retort to dance’s hyper-kineticness of recent decades.
Nor does the provocative headstand by dancer Bobbi Smith, pictured above, encapsulate the work. And yet there she is, an upside-down tulip, succulent-red, posing and squirming in redolent sexuality. Then she’s Diana Ross fronting fellow Batsheva ladies in a deconstructed Supremes back-up dance overlaid with contemporary attitude. At another point, three girls knot their hands into fists as music crescendos; that would be anger. Another female moment has a solo dancer, garbed in green, stepping-crazy, her hips tick-tocking in a queer rocking motion over and over.
Neither does the edgy masculine energy in the photo at left “summarize” Sadeh21. But at one point, seven men occupy downstage — a chorus line — each raising one leg, foot flexed; it hearkens a frozen folk dance. The music is schmaltzy, the posers deadpanned.
There’s no easy reduction of this work, which doesn’t mean it does not cling together; it does, and seamlessly. It fully functions as a whole piece comprised of oh-so-many disparate, rich and discrete dance chapters and moments.
Naharin, who now must be viewed as one of our great global dance-maestros, builds tableaux in “Sadeh” best likened to Brueghel paintings. There they are, a morass of dancers milling about in haphazard humanity. A picture of “us.” And here we sit, in the audience, watching them. (That’s the photo of “Sadeh” … a face-off between performer and audience.) A dance company, if nothing else, is mini-morass, a small cult, a closed society. In Batsheva’s case, state funding allows for a glorious 18 members whom Naharin puts to marvelous use. First they get solos, then they hang in the group. A high point arrives when they form a long diagonal queue, some facing front, some back, some paired and gazing at each other. They barely move; “dancing” is minimal; it’s gestural and pedestrian but gripping as it melds with the ambient music (score by Naharin).
Naharin mentioned in a post-performance conversation that he’d like to do an entire evening of this “nothing” dancing.
Hey, if presented amidst gorgeous lighting, a cool score dotted with clashing sound bursts, exposed lights, half-board walls, just like “Sadeh21,” well, I’ll be there.
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