"Last Work" @ Batsheva Dance Company

"Last Work" @ Batsheva Dance Company

Dance Review by Sarah Frye
Rating 4 out of 4

The curtains open to reveal gray half wall barriers on both sides of the stage and a man dressed in slacks and a bright blue button down shirt running in place on a treadmill built into the floor.  Not what you’d expect to be greeted with in the first few moments of a dance performance but that’s exactly what you can expect from Batsheva’s Artistic Director and Choreographer Ohad Naharin.  Naharin brings the unexpected and breaks those cultural norms that audiences are accustomed to.  

Eventually the dancers in the company make their way onstage in solos, duets and groupings in shades of blue, gray, green and purple.  The 16 dancers make abstract shapes, lines and angles with their bodies and move in a way that is at times inhuman.  The first male dancer on stage moves his arm and knee to make is appear as if he is a giant rubber band; slow and steady at first and then getting faster and faster until bursting apart.  The other dancers move in similar ways that makes you think that they’ve made a deal with the devil to replace their bones and joints with elastic.  Such is the innovative technique that Naharin has created called Gaga that is characteristic of the Israeli dance company.  I cannot imagine what his classes must be like.  Everything is based as an experiment in his movement.  The movement phrases are jam-packed with activity that is at times dizzying and out of this world.

The performance makes several transitions throughout the evening.  At times you feel that the dancers are running the robotic rat race along with the Running man on the treadmill before then changing towards a more religious leaning theme with the men changing into long black robes and the women in white.  The overtures of sex and religion are prevalent before changing once again to mimic a giant frenetic rave with confetti.  All the while the Runner maintains his steadfast beat.

Four male dancers take on different roles alongside the treadmill: one waving a giant white flag, another playing what appears to be a giant wooden rotating instrument next to a seated man with his back to the audience draped in pink gyrating and pulsating.  When he is finally revealed to the audience there is a machine gun between his legs with the familiar sounds of gunfire in the background.  The final individual yells into a microphone while stretching tape over and around the microphone stand.  Finally the other three dancers join the rest of the ensemble center stage.  The dancer holding the tape weaves himself in and around the dancers wrapping each of them in a few rounds and creating a giant web of the dancers.  Once he has completely taped the ensemble he turns his attention to the Runner and tapes his as well before handing him the white flag to hold.  We’ve made it to our final transition whereas we feel as if we are in a refugee camp and we’re all connected together.  The dancers make their final movements before the light is suddenly extinguished on them all.  The dizzying movements brought to its knees in a final calmness.

In different cultures and with different audiences, different movements could be deemed offensive and inappropriate.  It’s the shock and awe factor.  At one point, all of the dancers are on all fours with their open backsides facing us.  While American audiences might find this slightly comical, it will be extremely offensive to others.  The sexualized movements with giant grins on the dancers’ faces as they look toward the audience, daring us to look away might be offensive to some American audiences.  In the end, Naharin is doing what he does best, breaking those standards and rules that we’re accustomed to.  We should all take note, recognize and appreciate the man that ran the same pace, kept the same beat and that at times we forgot about; all the while remaining the constant.