A World of Fantasy, Staged by a Tel Aviv Modern Dance Troupe

Ruth Eshel
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From Danielle Agami’s 'And Still.'
From Danielle Agami’s 'And Still.'Credit: Gadi Dagon
Ruth Eshel

The Batsheva Dance Company’s Young Ensemble is presenting a marvelous program consisting of two works by choreographers who were members of the mother company. The career of each – Sharon Eyal and Danielle Agami – took a different direction, but both have displayed distinctive qualities reflecting the exacting standards of the original company.

The two works that make up the evening are located in fantasy worlds. Agami’s new piece, “And Still,” is set in a burrow, though one that’s neither cold nor gray but illuminated and colorfully jovial. It is enclosed by geometrical straight lines and supported in the rear by a turquoise-colored wall that towers slightly above the dancers. There are niches on the sides, akin to chambers for occupants. The latter are attired in short, flattering clothes designed by Eri Nakamura in a rich, regal red. Each item of clothing has a slightly different cut, playing up the individual character of the dancers and giving generous exposure to the skin of their legs and the upper torso.

The dancers evoke a tribe of insects, perhaps exotic crickets. They cross the burrow from side to side, leave the stage to continue their journey in imaginary burrows and return from the other side. The work is rich in encounters of short duets. The viewer’s eye locks equally on the dancers’ bodily form and the spaces created by the parts of the body emphasized against the background of the turquoise wall, and on the interplay of the red and the skin color. The gorgeous lighting shows them in their full beauty.

An image that remains engraved in the memory is of a dancer crossing the stage tranquilly in a bridge posture, placing her hands and feet softly as though in meditative serenity. Dancers glide like a community of guards, or move forward lightly on their toes in a back row holding imaginary bags. Their progress is halted by a kind of inventory-taking of the burrow’s occupants – each dancer with his distinctive movement.

There is also what looks like a drill for an emergency: they all run to the center, slump to the ground, surrendering to the force of gravity and landing with a thud, as though dead. In another marvelous moment the dancers stand perfectly still, attentive to the magical effect of the shifting lighting, the red costume changing to black, their skin painted green. Like chameleons. It’s a world of quiet, broken occasionally by the intrusion of a fragment of music. Possibly a young couple is sitting above the burrow with a radio and the sounds are penetrating the ground below?

The movement materials are splendid, their point of departure a motion that emanates from the skin’s awareness of the encounter with its enveloping space. Its precision vests the dancers with the quality of organized, balanced, whole movement that is in control of every detail. The movement proceeds in silence fraught with grace. The dancers are wonderful; I was especially struck by two solo segments, by Chiaki Horita and Etay Axelrod, who were riveting by virtue of a range of subtle yet dynamic movements.

That said, the work as a whole needs tightening. Some segments look constrained, such as a brief bit of violence that remains undeveloped. Nor is it clear why boxes are placed on the stage if no use is made of them.

Internal energy

“Bill,” choreographed by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, has undergone changes since I first saw the work in 2010. It is set in an indeterminate open, dark place, say a clearing in a dense forest where little light penetrates. In contrast to Agami’s work, which is lit as though waiting for Alice in Wonderland, in “Bill” everything is shrouded in mist.

The work opens with three solos, and immediately one is struck by the difference in the movement language, which here is generated from within the body. The solo dances revel in internal energy, in its dynamics and in the way it shapes the body. In contrast to “And Still,” the dancers wear full-body tights, giving them a nude look even though they are clothed. Their hair is pulled back and dyed white. In one marvelous moment, after the three solos, the stage suddenly fills with dancers who look like clones of the soloists. Could it all be virtual?

The dancers divide into groups. Each member of the ensemble has his own unique movement motif. The movement is focused within the body, which seems to become narrower and longer. The dancers are intent on an inner point and then launch into small movements of repeated impulses, lightly striking the same point, like a ceremony of recharging the storehouses of energy. With the body filled, the movement grows, morphing into sensuousness but remaining hungry and unsatisfied. It sometimes seems as though iron fingernails are scratching the internal walls, searching for the pain.

At one wonderful moment the light gradually fades and the little that remains clings to the dancers’ tights, as though telling us that we are viewing a ceremony that is not meant to be viewed. It’s a secret ceremony that could disappear at any moment, and the eye tries to capture it and take in every second.

The spell that both works cast on the viewer goes beyond the movement language and the performance. The stage is full, pervaded by a sense of the magical that enthralls the viewers, enveloping them in the experience.

The next performances of “Bill” and “And Still” are at Heichal Hatarbut, Yavne, on January 21, and at the Suzanne Dellal Center, Tel Aviv, on March 17 and 18. Tickets at http://batsheva.co.il/en/repertory?open=bill