Reviewer: Chantal Guevara
Some might describe Batsheva Ensemble as “NDT2 with beards”. Both companies are peopled with prodigiously talented dancers in their late teens and early 20s, both perform works by Ohad Naharin – and in fact, part of the joy of this evening’s performance was in seeing pieces previously performed at Sadler’s Wells by NDT2 – but the similarity peters out there. Batsheva Ensemble’s performances are an explosion of Gaga technique, the movement language developed by Artistic Director Ohad Naharin back in the ’90s, and which we’ve had limited exposure to so far through Hofesh Shechter’s work – but Batsheva Ensemble reminds us of the full richness and potential of this way of dancing.
Starting with a solitary dancer entertaining the audience before the show started, the stage slowly filled with more and more dancers, moving individually until their movement seemed to snap into sync as a voiceover commanded “Ignore. Ignore All” – fitting words for a performance disrupted by anti-Israeli protests.
While we’ve watched Ohad Naharin’s works previously through NDT2’s performances, and Batsheva Dance Company’s three prior visits to London, this is our first chance to see his works performed by his own dancers in over four years and fittingly, Deca Dance is a medley of Naharin’s past works, an ever-evolving selection which varies according to the current repertoire of the parent company. It’s an excellent way to explore the great diversity of Naharin’s creativity, and the talent of his young dancers. Even the music ranged from traditional Hebrew songs and the Academy of Ancient Music all the way to Goldfrapp. And throughout the evening, we’re given ample opportunities to marvel at the unique quality of the dancers’ movement, whether of their sheer physical control, whether in tiny movements, or how perfectly in sync they perform, even when all 16 dancers are on stage.
Although excerpts from eight works were performed, the standout pieces were Black Milk, Virus and Kyr. Black Milk, with five men wearing just longyi-like trousers, was oddly reminiscent of Russell Maliphant’s recent The Rodin Project, with elegant sculptural choreography which developed to give the work a more tribal feel, forging strong relationships between the dancers. Spurred on by Paul Smadbeck’s “Etude no. 3 for Marimba”, the movement was lively and dynamic, always flowing, whether the dancers were leaping in the air, or smearing their faces and bodies with mud.
Other works such as Virus showed how tightly choreographed the entire company can perform, with solos alternating between group, well, body-shaking, while a duet in Mabul to baroque music displays Naharin’s quirkiness, largely consisting of a man trying to poke his partner’s stomach. And Kyr. While clips of it are available on YouTube, little prepares you for the sheer power of seeing it performed live, with the dancers throwing themselves backwards (or in one poor dancer’s case, endlessly forwards), hats flung away and the dancers shouting along to the song.
It’s impossible to mention Batsheva Ensemble’s performances without referring to the protests which have dogged them since their tour started in late October. Hefty security measures were in place at Sadler’s Wells – as their Brighton performance had had to be cancelled due to the protests – which delayed the start of the show, meaning the audience was treated to an impromptu entertainment by two of the dancers until the show could start. And when protesters in the auditorium shouted out, the audience tried to drown them out with applause for the dancers.
While the show was tainted by unpleasantness and delays, if anything, it increased the audience’s support and appreciation, creating a truly electric atmosphere, itself boosted by the amazing performances. There are only two chances left to see Batsheva Ensemble in London, and few tickets left; whatever the inconvenience, do NOT miss them!