Ohad Naharin Creates a Whole New World With a Stunning, Reinvented 'Hora'

The Israeli choreographer's work, performed by the Batsheva Dance Company, is a collection of breathtaking frames – but don't dare photograph it

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The Batsheva Dance Company performs Ohad Naharin's 'Hora,' February 11, 2018.
The Batsheva Dance Company performs Ohad Naharin's 'Hora,' February 11, 2018.Credit: Askaf
Tal Levin
Tal Levin
Tal Levin
Tal Levin

On the program distributed to the audience at the performance of “Hora,” below the title of the work, the following is written in large, bold letters: “The use of cell phones and photography during the performance is absolutely prohibited.” And if any doubt remains as to how important this matter is to choreographer Ohad Naharin, the moderator repeats these words before the performance begins.

On the face of it, this is a routine request, generally made at the start of every stage performance. But its placement and size on the program leaflet turn it almost into a motto of the work created by Naharin for the Batsheva Dance Company in 2009, and now being performed again. It may be a type of warning to spectators, not because an usher is liable to take away their phones if they dare take pictures, but because photography itself, the very attempt to catch something of this work, will spoil it completely.

The temptation to photograph it is great, because “Hora” is a work whose visual dimension – or to be more precise, its esthetic dimension – becomes like an additional dancer in the ensemble. To the point where at the beginning, the work seems like a collection of breathtaking frames, and the desire to photograph and share them is almost irresistible.

One of the reasons for all this beauty is the stage design by Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi), who painted it in a phosphorescent green. It’s a stage without curtains, so that the 11 participating dancers are onstage throughout the performance. Their pale skin contrasts with their black costumes, and along with the surrounding green creates another world, both similar and dissimilar to ours, whose inhabitants are creatures who may be human or superhuman. Slowly but surely, the dancers begin to introduce themselves and their world through a series of solos.

During the original creative process, Naharin worked with each of the dancers separately, and only later assembled them in a shared space. The result is, on the one hand, attention to the unique characteristics of each dancer/creature, and on the other, a sense that this is a harmonic network of organisms, in which each individual contributes his or her part to the flow of energy.

The Batsheva Dance Company performs Ohad Naharin's 'Hora,' February 11, 2018.Credit: Askaf

The new world created on the stage is largely futuristic. This is implied both by the color, phosphorescent green, which in the Western imagination is usually related to aliens, as well as a series of choices in the soundtrack. Music from “2001: A Space Odyssey” and the opening theme of “Star Trek” are the most prominent and familiar of the selections, but most of them were adapted by Isao Tomita, who provided an electronic and synthesized sound.

Captivating beauty

Those cinematic works dealt in one way or another with an attempt to imagine the future, the place of technology in our lives and the ways in which it is liable to lead to disaster. As much as they wanted to draw spectators into a fantasy about another world, they also placed a mirror before the audience, which was obliged to confront the connection between fantasy and reality. In a sense, Naharin does something similar: He both draws us close and distances us from what is happening onstage, captivates us with beauty, and threatens to destroy it. At the same time, he mocks the never-ending pretense of prophesying the future.

The Batsheva Dance Company performs Ohad Naharin's 'Hora,' February 11, 2018.Credit: Askaf

The beauty that is evident in the early frames of the work spills out and envelops the movement in “Hora” as well. It ranges from delicacy and fragility to great effort. The lines of the body are endlessly elongated; the body seems to be broken up into threads, each of which is stretched and controlled.

In the present version, the original costumes by Anna Mirkin have been replaced by the designs of Eri Nakamura, Naharin’s partner and a dancer in the company. Nakamura, in contrast to Mirkin, chose one costume for the women and another for the men. The result contributes to the clean look of the stage, and turns the movements and the choreography into individual characteristics of each dancer.

To be more precise, it enables the dancers to exit and enter various characters and situations, thereby also expressing various sides of themselves. Naharin also changed the gender of the roles, and in some cases the female dancers perform selections that were originally designed for men, and vice versa.

These choices change “Hora” from a repeat performance to an entirely new creation. It would in fact be correct to see it as a direct continuation of works such as “The Hole,” “Last Work” and “Venezuela,” although it was created earlier. All three attempt to conceive of or create a new visual and movement-related world, which also has a different architecture, its own palette of colors, and of course, movements of its own.

The Batsheva Dance Company rehearses Ohad Naharin's 'Hora.'Credit: Askaf

Both in “The Hole” and “Venezuela,” Naharin played with gender change, so that the same choreography could be seen receiving various interpretations at almost the same time. However, and perhaps in contrast to his most recent works, “Hora” also includes a kind of optimism. It tries to imagine a future where there is light, humor and passion. In one section there is a sound reminiscent of a heart rate monitor. When the dancers stand and beat their chests with their palms, they look as though their hearts are beating with tremendous force. Life, passion and movement are present even in the face of a gloomy future.

This is the second time I’ve seen “Hora,” and aside from the differences I noted, the most prominent one is related to the performance. The present version is much tighter, clearer and more successful – an impressive achievement for a group that in effect inherited choreography tailored to the measurements of the original cast.

Among the 11 dancers, the most outstanding are Nitzan Ressler, who in the past year has turned into a mature dancer, while retaining phenomenal technical abilities, and Yael Ben Ezer, who is performing for the second year in the adult company, and continues to surprise and hypnotize.

In general, all the female dancers I saw demonstrated great technical and expressive abilities, while the men were mediocre. (The work has 11 dancers, which means that in each performance the ensemble is composed of different dancers from the company.)

Back to the program, in which the choreographer dedicated the work to his mother – Tzofia Naharin, herself a dance teacher. Is the name of the show – “Hora” – some kind of nostalgic process, a longing for childhood and folk dancing from the kibbutz? Is “Hora” an echo of the world “horror”? Or can “hora” also be read as “horeh” (Hebrew for “parent”), a role for which Naharin was preparing while working on the performance (his partner was pregnant with their daughter at the time)?

All these possibilities seem to be in evidence to some degree in this work. We recommend not trying to photograph it, but rather allowing it to sweep you in, to a green, unstable and terrifyingly beautiful world.

“Hora,” Batsheva Dance Company. Choreography: Ohad Naharin; costumes: Eri Nakamura; stage design and lighting: Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi); soundtrack design and editing: Maxim Waratt; adaptation of musical works: Isao Tomita. Upcoming performances: February 25, 26, 27 and 28, 21.00, Suzanne Dellal Center, Tel Aviv.

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