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By Nancy Alfaro
Rachel Osborne and Caroline Boussard in Ohad Naharin’s Mamootot
Photo by Julieta Cervantes, courtesy BAM
Batsheva Dance Company
Next Wave Festival, BAM
Mark Morris Dance Center, Brooklyn, NY
November 15–19, 22, 23, 25–27, 2005
Reviewed by Nancy Alfaro
From the moment the first white-powdered dancer entered in silence, her strange, knicker-like costume painted like a muted canvas, Mamootot (Hebrew for “mammoth”) riveted the crowd. The woman performed with elongated gestures, squatting, pliéing, and extending into arabesque, all the while wearing a deadpan expression. The dancers’ spare and mostly emotionless presentation left room for the audience to drift in and out of their own interpretations of the events—there was no emotional spoon-feeding here.
Mamootot’s studio lighting, idiosyncratic movement, and lack of scenery were reminiscent of alternative-space performances prevalent during the 1970s and early ’80s. Esoteric and sometimes hard to interpret, those performances rang true because of the passion and commitment underlying them. Nowadays a pared-down performance might scream of a low budget, fledgling choreographic endeavor, or prove to be trite or pretentious. But Israeli artistic director and choreographer Ohad Naharin utilized his ideas in unpredictable, thought-provoking ways.
The dance was full of changes—in level (from floor work to leaps), in movement quality (oozing or sharp, technical or pedestrian), and in dynamics. Group unison prevailed at times, solos and duets at others. The audience was seated on all four sides of the room, and the fact that you could see the dancers in front of you, across the space, and peripherally created a complex, beautiful visual effect.
When dancers came to sit in the audience, they broke the “stage wall” barrier, allowing one older gentleman to closely examine the sweating, exotic creature next to him, who was catching his breath in counterpoint to the music. The dancer’s gaze remained locked on the performance area. At another point, a male dancer casually disrobed onstage and performed a quiet, Greek-frieze-like series of postures. When finished, he smilingly picked up a (clothed) female dancer, wrapped her around his waist, and carried her offstage. It was an enjoyable, mysterious moment.
Near the end of the piece, the dancers held or shook hands with audience members, looking soulfully into their faces. The communication between viewer and dancer was fascinating to watch: While all the dancers seemed comfortable, some in the audience accepted the handshake shyly; others seemed grateful and on the verge of tears. This heartfelt endeavor seemed to promote peace through the power of touch. See www.israelcentersf.org/culture/2003-2004/batsheva.html.