With New Dance, Batsheva's Naharin Lives Up to Expectations

The feted Israeli choreographer's latest work, now showing at Tel Aviv's Dellal Center, plays with perspectives, gender, and features characteristic ambiguous ending.

The Hole,” the new work created by choreographer Ohad Naharin with the Batsheva Dance Company, was born in the company’s vast studio that in Naharin’s words has transformed into “a hole of happening.” To me it appears like a temple with an altar at its center: The stage designer, Zohar Shoef, has placed in the center of the studio an octagonal stage upon which the female dancers stand and around which he added another narrow stage adjacent to the walls, upon which the male dancers are placed equidistant from each other like a row of Greek columns. In the middle sits the audience, with their eyes toward the altar in the center and their backs toward the male dancers, who serve as some kind of chorus that engages in a dialogue with the female dancers on the altar.

The architecture creates a room of levels. There is a space beneath the altar where the female dancers can disappear; the altar, where most of the activity takes place and up high, almost touching the stage lamps, there is a giant grating that is attached to the ceiling, a sort of grille upon which the men will crawl forward. There is also a horizontal space that spans and stretches to the sides up to the stage that encircles the altar.

Like in many of Naharin’s works, which are multi-level and open to different interpretations, this one also allows the audience to choose different ways of viewing the movement experience at the new space. This new space doesn’t only invite new possibilities of movement but also a different political point of view. It seems to me that this is the first work where Naharin makes a clear separation between the male and female dancers, with the exception of two or three mixed duets that don’t stand at the center of the work. In the version that I saw, most of the activity on the altar was by the women; in another version of the work that will be performed on a different date their roles will be switched. Nevertheless, this isn’t the first time that Naharin has created such a switch: This was also the case with the dancing in “Black Milk” that was performed in one version by women and in another version by men, allowing us to discern the different types of energy.

The unique architecture of the dance brings to mind the relation between a viewing audience and statues at a museum. There the audience can move and examine the statue from different angles. In this creation, the viewer is fixed to his seat and Naharin invites the audience to view dancers performing the same sentences of movement from different places.

Like call of muezzin

The political route of observation is opened when the men in the outer circle place their hands next to their mouths like a microphone and call out the numbers “one, two, three, four” in Hebrew like the call of a muezzin to prayer. The women answer them, also in Hebrew, and with every number called their bodies change shape like they have been struck. Later on, the men voice the same count in Arabic but the women stand their grand and continue to count in Hebrew. This generates tension that continues to grow as the female dancers look like they are falling apart, quiver and regain energy and call out with all their strength the numbers in Hebrew.

What sticks out in this language of movement is the contrast between the movements in which the energy weakens, almost evaporating into some sort of inner spiritual gaze, and movements in which the energy that has concentrated inside generates sharp and rapid movements like the stroke of a guillotine. These beautiful qualities were expressed throughout the work, particularly by Adi Zlatin and Eri Nakamura. Zina Zinchenko also stood out, it being impossible to ignore her excellent dancing. Among the men, Shamel Pitts stood out with his strong presence.

The work concludes when the men lying on the grille throw down firecrackers on the female dancers below, making a ruckus. This was a surprising theatrical act, which calls to mind sabotage but also recalls Purim and other happy events in various cultures. The concluding image deviates from the preceding devotional ceremony, when the swings suddenly force their way through the ceiling and the entire altar becomes a playing surface where the female dancers fly through the wind freely. It is an intriguing performance with an unresolved ending, as if the Naharin virus entered to activate it and left it with a characteristic feeling of an unclosed circle. But the work certainly proves that Naharin isn’t stuck in a rut, rather that he continues to innovate.

Batsheva Dance Company, “The Hole” by Ohad Naharin. Space and stage design by Zohar Shoef; lighting by Avi Yona Bueno ‏(Bambi‏); costume design by Ariel Cohen; soundtrack composition and editing by Maxim Warrat. Varda Hall at the Suzanne Dellal Center.

Gadi Dagon