The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Opera House, Washington, DC; November 18, 2014
If you hear ‘Gaga’ and don’t immediately think of the pop artist Lady Gaga, you must be familiar with the Batsheva Dance Company and its Artistic Director Ohad Naharin, and his unique dance language. Gaga is apparently a movement philosophy that encourages dancers to embrace their inner child and find their personal groove. Judging from the Batsheva’s performance of “Sadeh21”, the practice results in amazing suppleness. I saw bodies contorted in countless ways you’d never think a body could bend. Gaga must also be about breaking purported rules and challenging the human body to discover untrodden paths. Even something as simple as walking, I observed, could happen in a whole new way. A dancer walked sliding her feet in small semi circles and rotating her hips loosely. She walked smoothly, with an unnatural ease, given the oddness of her gait.
“Sadeh21” literally began with a bang. A woman behind me whispered, “I almost had a heart attack.” Indeed, it seemed the building had exploded. The dancers took turns performing alone on stage then sauntering off. A white half wall, taller than the tallest dancer, stood behind them. Watching Batsheva’s dancers was both mesmerizing and puzzling. I kept wondering how certain dancers got into certain positions. They fluidly moved from balletic poses to animalistic ones low to the ground. Heads dramatically tilted, wrists bent into claws, arms and legs unexpectedly flung outward. The dancers jerked and squatted and melted onto the floor and up again. They looked like creatures being birthed.
The music ranged from the futuristic space-like sounds so favored by contemporary dance companies, to high-pitched screams, to classical strings (soundtrack design by Maxim Waratt). For costumes, the dancers mainly wore different colored tank tops with shorts or pants (costume design by Ariel Cohen). Sometimes the bottoms had a velvety-looking texture. Sometimes the colors of the costumes changed among the dancers from more muted to brighter hues. And, at one point, there were men in black strapless dresses with an asymmetrical hem. The lighting, too, changed in mood (lighting and stage design by Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi)). The dancers were sometimes bathed in warm golden light, or a cold blue/gray, or neon green.
‘Sadeh,’ the internet informed me, means ‘field,’ as in a ‘field of study.’ The numbers of the fields were projected in blue light onto the white wall (video subtitle design by Raz Friedman). After a while I understood that due to the pace at which “Sadeh1”, “Sadeh2”, “Sadeh3”, and “Sadeh4” unfolded, getting to “Sadeh21” would require some sort of interesting feat. Yes, some in the audience chortled when “Sadeh7-18” flashed on the wall. The various sections had different flavors. Sometimes the speed of the movement increased, and sometimes it slowed. Frequently the stage was littered with a landscape of bodies to behold, and often that landscape was rife with quirkiness. A lone male dancer repeatedly jumped like a frog, and later a lone female dancer on her back pedaled her feet in the air. Bodies became dominoes or billiard balls as they moved in conjunction with each other, or bounced off of each other. A game of numbers ensued in which a single dancer yelled out a pattern of numbers, and a group of dancers moved to adhere to the called-out groupings.
Continuing with the theme of play, the dancers held hands and formed a large ring. I felt like an anthropologist studying human behavior in a foreign culture as I intently took it all in. When the accompaniment became one male dancer’s unintelligible baby blabber, though, for me, at least, the humor was short-lived and quickly grew to annoyance. Uncomfortable, as well, were the distressing female shrieks as part of the soundtrack that to my ears sounded like nails on a chalkboard.
Finally, in “Sadeh21,” the dancers climbed atop the back wall, upon which credits for the work were projected and rolled up as if the dance had been a film. From their perch, they silently dove into the dark. It was beautiful. Despite the fact that the audience heartily applauded and waited to see the dancers take a bow, no curtain call came. Thus, we were left with the enduring image of dancers peeling off, flying up, and falling down.