Ohad Naharin at BAM Blew Me Away

November 15, 2007

Naharin’s piece Three at BAM was so beautiful I could almost not bear it. Simple and complex, soft and powerful, giddy and solemn, it was the kind of piece you want to linger over.

    The choices he—and the dancers of Batsheva Dance Company—made have you totally engaged, even spellbound. The dancers are sometimes strangely animalistic, with paws for hands or nuzzling each other too close, skin to skin, bone to bone. In “Humus” (the seond of the three segments), a group of women push their pelvises forward, not seductively, but like they are each a slowly bending tree trunk. Then they jerk their hands out low to their sides, as though they are all hiccuping in unison. Every phrase was unpredictable, not like it was trying to be different, but because that’s how people are. It was an intensification of the many aspects of humankind.

    Naharin had said that Gaga (his “movement language” that the dancers train in) connects people with their weaknesses, their insecurities, and their explosive power. That was all there in timings that were startling and warming. In one place, the dancers line up to come forward and do two-second wondrous things. One dancer looks at her hands, then turns the palms toward the audience, as if to say, “I give you all I have.” And they do. In another section a woman does a solo that seems to tear her apart while others are nonchalant. There is never a moment you can blink and assume what’s coming next. And just when it seems like too much, the commotion slows down and gets gorgeously simple, like when all the dancers lift their arms, palms out, and gently bring them down at different times.

    I moderated a BAMDialogue with Naharin after the performance last night. He talked about going beyond the familiar, about doing Gaga and opening up pathways of the body. But nothing he said explained why or how he gets such vulnerable, beautiful performances from the dancers. An audience person asked why he does so few duets. He said he likes duets but doesn’t want to feel he has to do them. Plus, he pointed out that people can dance together, be sensitive to each other, without actually touching. My feeling is that, in order to develop that incredibley deep and “multi-directonal” movement, he needs people to be separate individuals. But also, there is a loneliness, an existential sadness/strength that comes with all those people moving that eccentrically alone.

    When they do touch, it’s amazing. (That was true in Mamootot too.) There’s a men’s duet in “Secus” (the third of Three) that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, with seemingly haphazard hazards and sudden landings onto each other and bursting separations, always returning to an amused fox trot. (When I asked him in the dialog uehow he worked on that duet, he said he sent those two to ballroom classes.)

    Naharin as been interviewed about Gaga plenty (and I have a bit about it in the Oct.06 issue). But the best demonstration of how its works, how it encourages paradox to happen in the body, was about five seconds last night during the dialogue. He told the audience to move in their seats as though the seat were shaking. Then, once the pleasure of that got started, he asked us to clench one hand in a fist. And once that was done, he said to let the head move slowly side to side. If you do all those three contradictory things, you can feel the different impulses, textures, in the body simultaneously. Try it.