For Batsheva Dance Troupe's New Show, Creative Freedom Is the Rule

'Session' by the Batsheva Dance Company, changes with every performance. But audiences may well hunger for a more controlling choreographer.

Ruth Eshel
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Ruth Eshel

The dancer rises, walks and stands. And waits. She moves in another direction. She stands, listening. She holds still, as though waiting for the body's hunger for movement to rejuvenate and direct her. Meditative music is heard, perhaps Japanese. Suddenly, the dancer thrusts one leg forward and the other stretches backward; the torso circles forward, as though it is a silhouette of the front leg, and the arms circle in front of the chest, embracing a huge space.

Other dancers in this performance of "Session" by the Batsheva Dance Company rise up and fan out in various directions - their movements expressive of works rendered by Ohad Naharin and Sharon Eyal, Batsheva's artistic director and house choreographer, respectively.

Now that the dice have been rolled and fallen still, the game begins. The rules look like this to me: Each one of the dancers can decide whether to continue from their opening move and execute the remaining arc of movement, thereby creating a short moment of unison with some other dancers; or they may propose another line of movement that might be followed by other dancers; or carry out some neutral action, such as running past the action; or simply decide to go and sit back down.

Certainly there are other rules. In this performance, the choreographer has passed the reins to the dancers, and they have a plethora of options to choose from. The materials used in the game are taken from the large reserve of lines of movement that make up Naharin's and Eyal's repertoire.

Another, unexpected, component of the game is the encounter with the DJ's music, superimposed on the performance, which changes every few minutes and has no connection with the original music used by the dancers. The dancers' work thus expresses the body's memory. Meantime, the audience, particularly those in the auditorium who are familiar with the repertoire, can identify certain lines of movement, as their eyes open in amazement at the sight of the new setting.

Like a Google search

"Session" brings to mind the collaborative artistic events created in the United States by choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham, sculptor Robert Rauschenberg, and composer John Cage at the end of the 1950s and in the 1960s. In these events, too, random chance or luck held sway, and served as a means of discovering things beyond what conscious thought already knows. Usually, these creative events were held in university gymnasiums. Under the accepted set of rules, the dancers had a reserve of lines of movement they had practiced beforehand in studios, and during a particular performance they encountered musical compositions, and perhaps also moving props (such as helium balloons ), for the first time. Thus, for the first time, music, objects and movement met at the same time and space.

For the most part, the rules of the game followed by Cunningham and Naharin seem to be the same; but the style of movement is different. In Cunningham's case, the bottom part of the body virtually danced classical ballet, whereas upper parts tucked and flexed, and these lines of movement of varying lengths created a sense of independent arcs of motion joining one another. In contrast, Naharin's "Session" is movement like a ladder with no ends: The range of movement runs between rigid, cluttered motion to movements that evaporate, freely, without end. In this case, nuances derive from an Epicurean body that draws pleasure from polyphonic energy, and from a virus that devours all forms of logic and sometimes snuggles up to a monastic minimalism.

"Session" is also a game about group responsibility. The responsibility moves back and forth, between a dancer who wants to lead and definitively choose a line of movement, and a dancer who relinquishes this desire to lead and choose. The performance raises questions about the extent to which one can remain an individual, and the extent to which one must oblige group responsibility. One can watch the Batsheva dancers observing the happenings; each dancer's eyes analyze the situation, preparing for a decision. Suddenly, a dancer moves swiftly to the center, lies down on his back and his legs move quickly, to provide a new point of reference. Sometimes the events bring to mind a Google search, with a combination of letters used to make a word that then fetches a wide range of possible options. In this way, in "Session," each movement stirs a range of possibilities that might be followed. This range of options and sense of choice is the essence and heart of the performance.

This is an event liable to continue without end because the number of options and combinations is infinite. But as the performances continue, neither the pleasure experienced by the talented dancers, nor their creativity, suffices: Hunger for a choreographer who can stop the flow, make choices and forge a composition that stands on firm legs, begins to seep through.

"Session" by Ohad Naharin, performed by the Batsheva Dance Company. Soundtrack by DJ Guy Shomroni; costumes and design by Rakefet Levy. Varda Studio, Suzanne Dellal Center, Tel Aviv, November 1-3.

'Session' by the Batsheva Dance Company.Credit: Gadi Dagan



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