Why Batsheva Dance Company's Ohad Naharin Is Still Lord Gaga

Batsheva’s latest work choreographs stories of love for the body and the tales it can tell, and is one of Naharin’s finest creations.

Ruth Eshel
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From Ohad Naharin's 'Last Work.'
From Ohad Naharin's 'Last Work.'Credit: David Bachar
Ruth Eshel

Batsheva Dance Company’s “Last Work” begins with a dancer, Maayan Sheinfeld, running in place. Wearing a simple blue dress with a comfortable cut, she seems to be pulling a line of time within imagined spaces. In counterpoint to her, a male dancer enters at stage front and moves forward slowly, bent low. The soles of his feet make contact with the floor millimeter by millimeter, in a kind of long caress of love. Then the stage fills with dancers, each telling body stories with marvelous movement phrases. Perhaps these are the stories going through the mind of the running dancer.

The secrets and deep structure of Gaga – the compelling movement language invented by Ohad Naharin, the company’s artistic director and choreographer – are revealed in Naharin’s latest work. The dancers are magnificent, exuding a radiant presence that’s fed by a highly sensitive awareness of the interplay between the inner space that courses within, and the body that moves and gives shape to the external space. Compositions are constructed and dismantled, responding to the joy of creation and the design of a changing space. The atmosphere is one of serenity, but also of a delicate sensitivity flush with the potential to explode at any moment. Movement stories are abruptly terminated, like a film edit, as new narratives of composition emerge. There’s a feeling of layers upon layers that, given enough time, will continue to build one upon the other, finally spilling into surging waves. These are stories of love for the body and the tales it can tell.

Magnetic force

Together with the coolness, the segments of impressive unison dancing are enthralling. More than just precise coordination achieved by a number of dancers, the sense is that the dancers are being nourished by a particular image they are experiencing together, and are connected to one another spiritually. This oneness generates magnetic force.

The original music by Grischa Lichtenberger is rife with contrasts of tension, tranquillity and melodic motifs, arousing a melancholic longing – as though knowing what we, the viewers, do not yet know.

The dancer from the opening continues to run, the paean to creativity and the body coming to a seeming end in her journey of the imagination. The dancers line up behind her, perhaps to join her in running, perhaps to leave the stage. But instead, they join with one another in a bloc and remain in their places.

After we’ve been cascaded with beauty comes the eruption of the Naharin virus, with an atmosphere of violence assuming control. The personal stories become more agitated, faster, cut off from their stabilizing anchor. A dancer comes onstage with a rifle and fires. The dancers, who had formed a circle, scatter across the stage and freeze in their places, responding mutely – almost surrendering themselves – to a dancer with tape who binds them together, trapping them in large spiderwebs that fill the stage.

The result is an image as gorgeous as it is troubling: of death emerging from beauty. Now comes the turn of the running dancer. Spirit? Hope? She, too, is trapped. The running ends. A white flag is raised.

“Last Work” is one of the finest creations in the long, illustrious career of Ohad Naharin – surely not his last work, only “last” in the sense that it’s the most recent he’s created. Conversing with reality, perhaps.

Upcoming performances of “Last Work” will be staged this week at Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv from Monday-Thursday at 21.00, and on Friday (July 10) at 14.00.