April 6, 2019

in Dance

by Ohad Naharin

Batsheva Dance Company
Celebrity Series of Boston
Boch Center Shubert Theatre
Theater district, Boston
April 5-6, 2019

With Etay Axelroad, Billy Barry, Yael Ben Ezer, Matan Cohen, Ben Green, Chiaki Horita, Chunwoong Kim, Rani Lebselter, Hugo Marmelada, Eri Nakamura, Nitzan Ressler, Kyle Scheurich, Maayan Sheinfeld, Yonatan Simon, Hani Sirkis, Amalia Smith, Imre van Opstal, Erez Zohar

The Batsheva Dance Company in 'Venezuela'

The Batsheva Company
in “Venezuela”
Photo: Robert Torres

An exuberantly talented dance company in their Celebrity Series debut, with a dark and catalcysmic piece.

Clearly, the dancers in the Israeli-based Batsheva Dance Company, a long-standing and highly regarded institution, are incredibly versatile and talented.

The variety of moves which this dark and difficult piece utilized were sometimes stunning in their virtuosity. To mimic and caricature Latin dancing in the way this piece does requires finesse, superb technique, and a considerable supply of energy.

Apart from the Latin-dancing takeoff there were plenty of other superbly striking moves, notably long stretches of very fast and intricate skipping in which lines of dancers went at high speeds forward and backwards across the stage, surprisingly and amazingly never colliding. It was exhilarating.

There were also various more standard moves that were embellished with what seemed like a trademark jerking motion that added wonderful spice.

Remarkable as much of this dancing, and obviously, the expert choreography of long-time Batsheva artistic director and now “house choreographer” Ohad Naharin is, the narrative elements of Venezuela are quite difficult to grasp.

In service of this somewhat obscure narrative, much less exhilarating non-dancing proliferates.

Long stretches with the women riding around on men’s backs, camel-like, could possibly be considered narratively interesting as a Mid-Eastern metaphor, though one is hard put to stretch the image that far. At best, from the pure dance perspective, it provides a kind of slow-movement motif that at best offsets the more kinetic elements.

The evening begins and ends with the group of dancers collected together facing away from the audience. Okay, why not? But this gesture exemplifies a lot of other gestures which seem to go towards conveying some intended though quite obscure narrative without much showing off the dance talents of the troupe.

It’s not exactly clear what much of the imagery or music goes towards, but, whatever it is, there is a dark theme that prevails throughout. Gregorian chants, in the beginning, are gradually overtaken by a humming which turns eventually into a deafening roar. Later, when the music turns to what seems like something of Middle Eastern origin, the same thing happens with the humming and the roar. It seems intended to provoke a sense of significance but whatever that might be seemed obscured by whatever degree of indirection couches all of this.

There is also a lot of vocal rapping with adult language. Several members of the company perform the rap very well, but why this has anything to do with Venezuela or anything else the program intended is not very clear.

Nor, to begin with, apart from the play on Latin dancing, the Gregorian chants and some flags used as props in the middle of the program, is it clear really what any of this has to do with Venezuela. If it does, what Venezuela does the creator have in mind? The one of twenty years ago, five years ago, or of today? Venezuela has changed so dramatically over the past years that any suggestion of significance the piece offers is lost in historical ambiguity.

Was this indeed a metaphor for Middle Eastern problems? If that’s what the Middle Eastern music signifies, and what the roaring over the music signifies, the message is all too hidden to make an impact.

This company is so good at dancing, and so precise in many of its movements, it seems like an uneconomical use of talent to push dancers to embody a narrative that takes so much time away from the movement itself. Amplifying variations on some of the brilliant moves exhibited by the company would be well worth the effort towards creating a more fulfilling dance event.

The company is based in Israel, but some number of its dancers are from elsewhere: Japan, Korea, Canada, the United States, the Netherlands. The international flavor of the troupe is thus evident, but the narrative is difficult to interpret either as a purely international one or, alternatively, as one based primarily on the Israeli experience.

Overall: superb dancing, with some brilliant choreography. Weighty, dark, and at best ambiguous, narrative.

– BADMan

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