The Young Ensemble in Naharin's Virus

Batsheva Is Back in NYC and Unafraid of Offending the Audience

The first piece that Ohad Naharin brought to New York City after taking over Batsheva Dance Company exploded onto the Brooklyn Academy of Music stage in 2002. The NYC dance audience knew immediately that something big was happening in Tel Aviv. The piece was Naharin's Virus, and it seemed to embody both rage and a Zen acceptance of the unique strangeness of every human body. Now it's back in NYC until July 22, danced by the second company, known as Batsheva — The Young Ensemble, which ranges in age from 20 to 28.

The choreography has the ferocity yet humanity we've come to expect from Batsheva, plus a text from Peter Handke's agitating play, Offending the Audience. The dancers speak Handke's accusations, saying one minute that we, the audience, have a private part of our minds that no one can touch, and then in the next breath that they are invading that part of our brains.


The Young Ensemble rehearsing Naharin's Virus at The Joyce Theater. PC Kelsey Grills

Naharin's choreography too seems to parallel that mix of opposites: It's combative and interior at the same time. Sometimes the dancers are pounding the air in rhythmic unison. Other times they hold still while one among them goes wild. The dancers of the Young Ensemble are strong, vivid and raw. The costumes by Rakefet Levy emphasize long, almost simian arms. Sometimes the dancers hold their hands like paws; hungry animals waiting with wariness.

It's timely to see such an iconic piece by Naharin, because in September he will step down as artistic director and Batsheva will enter a new era.

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Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

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Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Nichols

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Comments have been pouring in from every angle imaginable: from history lessons on black face, to people outside of the ballet world expressing disbelief that this happens in 2019, to castigations of Copeland for exposing these young girls to the line of fire for what is ultimately the Bolshoi's costuming choice, to the accusations that the girls—no matter their cultural competence—should have known better.

I am a black dancer, and in 2003, when I was 11 years old, I was dressed up in blackface to perform in the Mariinsky Ballet's production of La Bayadère.

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