Dance Review: Batsheva Dance Company, Three

[SPOILER ALERT: This review contains lots of detail. If you’re going to see this, maybe hold off on reading. Otherwise, read on…]

During “Secus,” the second movement, literally, of Three, Ohad Naharin’s latest offering that opened last night at Brooklyn Academy of Music, I looked down to jot a note after the nine women had uttered–for the first time in the work–a guttural gesture while standing in group formation down-right. When I looked up again, not two seconds later, to my astonishment, the entire group had somehow migrated to center stage and seated themselves on the floor, legs in front of them, knees tented, arms behind, staring down the audience.

This is the mercurial, shape-shifting world of Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva Dance Company. Dancers inhabit a vacillating physicality that takes them from human, to dancer, to animal, to machine, all in one phrase. It is a highly disorienting, potentially nauseating transfiguration of the body, and it is genius. If Merce Cunningham has collapsed the body and put it back together, Ohad Naharin has simply scrambled the body while keeping it intact. (It should be noted that dancer Sharon Eyal is credited as “House Choreographer,” although I’m not sure the exact extent of her contribution). Like Mamootot of two years ago, the set is spare to nill; just a shirt black wall with disguised entrances around the back and sides surrounding a bare stage. It is the dance that facilitates the experience; it is all that you need. The costumes, by Rakefet Levy are simple too: mostly a spectrum of purples, blues, greens and grays; tank tops for the girls, polo shirts for the boys, and capri-pants for all.

“Bellus” opens the work. Set to Glenn Gould’s inimitable recording of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” the movement is itself a set of variations, opening with a typical, mind-bending solo by a male dancer.[1] Mid-way through his solo, a female dancer enters the stage and stops in a simple pose behind him. This is the method used for elision during the entire movement, which compliments Gould’s seamless transitions from one variation to the next.

A quick example of the roiling, self-referentiality of the choreography: The male soloist, within a single moment, arcs one of his arms upward in a traditionally classical form (i.e. shoulder down; single, gently curved line from shoulder to finger) then whips it somewhere else and brings it back into the same position, but this time, his hand makes a fierce claw and his arm takes on a more angular shape. You are constantly seeing the body work through various styles of individual forms. It brings to mind Plato’s idea that there are pure forms of everything that exists in the world. Naharin’s choreography seems to be in a relentless, Sisyphusian crisis to find it. But this is much less a goal than it is a mode.

There is a marvelous duet for male and female dancer in the middle of this section. Their bodies, at once elastic and metallic, move in close proximity, going back and forth between closing the negative space between them and creating it. It has a slightly touching, humorous quality, and it initiates the ensemble that eventually comes in to take over the rest of the variations.

In a transition meant more to entertain than to make any sense, one of the dancers comes out alone holding a television set on its side. His face suddenly appears in the monitor, and, in choppy segments, and through forced English, the talking head announces the details to come in the second piece. Particularly funny was the warning that the music of Brian Eno, to which the dance is set, is “very quiet…[long pause]…Very quiet.”

And it was. But it was a beautiful compliment to this ensemble piece for nine women. They move in unison chorus nearly the entire time. Seen together, as a musical chorus is heard together, they are a single object. And when they all stand, leaning precariously to one side with their arms held out, they skew your mind’s perception of space.

The dance continues with the group walking to one side of the stage, then stopping, turning, and engaging in some choreographic phrase. And the particular way Naharin has the dancers move–they turn individually in their own circles, so it looks like they move in a single mass that suddenly faces you, perhaps like a school of fish–adds to the affect of disorientation, or rather, reorientation. (This technique was used brilliantly in Mammotot, where the cramped stage space taunted the ensemble like a cage.) It is an effective tool, and continually reflects on the role of the individual within the group. There is a single moment of frenzied, individual flailing that for some reason is tragic, even though it is fleeting, and settles quickly into a unison hold, just before the piece ends.

“Secus,” the final, dizzying movement, is set to various kinds of music, all mixed together by Ohad Fishof. The sound is heavy on European smooth electronica, but it is beautiful in its sensual simplicity, and Fishof cuts together music by–and I will list them as they are in the program, since I am unfamiliar with most of them–“Chari Chai, Kid 606 + Rayon (mic: Stefan Ferry), AGF, Fennesz, Kaho Naa… Pyar Hai, SeeFeel”, and, The Beach Boys.

From the get-go, this is a tour de force with all seventeen dancers (although it feels like more). It is like the ADD dance of the century. Every dancer, at first, moves individually and rapidly. They come on and off the stage from every entrance/exit, walking at a healthy pace, sometimes brushing shoulders as they pass each other in the narrow passages before wriggling their bodies into an untraceable array of molds.

Soon on, Naharin beings to subdivide the ensemble, and the stage, in a variety of ways that is impossible to keep track of. And this becomes the main challenge of the viewer: Keeping track of all that is going on. You can’t watch any one dancer for more than a one or two seconds.

The stage eventually clears, leaving a male and female dancer. They engage in a gripping struggle, more intense than the duet of the first movement. Maybe more cynical too, in a flashy way. Suddenly the lights go out. After a second, they come back on and the two are still dancing; now somewhere else. This repeats several times. Each time the lights go out, it is literally breathtaking. The affect seems to charge the action with wild anticipation. (We were forewarned by the talking head, who returned in a second transition, to watch out for this!) Sometimes the pair would be in exactly the same place. Other times, the lights would go down for just a fraction of a second, and when they came up, you couldn’t figure out how they got to that other part of the stage and into this position in such a brief window. It’s hot.

Also hot is the duet that follows for two men. I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting for a choreographer to make a dance for two men that isn’t a fight and that is homoerotic in a contemporary sense. It’s isn’t riddled with guilt or pathos. It isn’t just about beauty, although, that’s hard to parse since the dancers are, well, dancers. There is a bit of camp; the dance is flavored with the tango. There is vulnerable intimacy; they cling happily to each other like true lovers. There is boyish rough housing; perhaps the most under-represented yet essential element of gay male relationships. It helps, too, that the dancers engage in a genuine fierceness that is neither apologetic nor sensational. It is sublime.

The work ends smartly, with a hyper-formal process by which all the dancers collect in three lines–one center stage (running up to down), and the others on either side at oblique angles–so that each line terminated with the first dancer at the front and center of the stage. This structure effectively created three conveyor belts, and pressurized the dancing by forcing it within such close proximity. Only three dancers–whoever came off the front of each line–would dance at a single time. And each line seemed, at first, to have its own set of movements. Soon it became clear that the dancers, in some way, are performing variations of the movement of the dancer before them. But not always. But then sometimes. Again, it is dizzying and mystifying, if a little contrived; but it works.

The work ends with a mad dash by all the dancers, running every which way like crazed spiders. The stage is invigorated. As the lights descend, one dancer is left scrambling alone in darkness. Is it a male or female? Dancer or animal? Whatever it is, you know it won’t be that long before it morphs into something else.

“Three,” by Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva Dance Company, runs tomorrow through Satruday at BAM. Shows start at 7:30PM.



  1. I really wish I had identities for these dancers. But truthfully, they are all magnificen. They all perform with the same intensity and presentness, and it would almost be unfair to single out any one. I do have my favorites. I just don’t know who they are.

  2. I saw ON out here in LA last year and they did 3, as well. I know people who came one night and returned to see the piece again the second (and last) night. Rad use of po-mo compositional structures and, yea, awesome performers!

  3. Thanks, Benn. Batsheva has a pretty devoted fan base here in NYC as well. A friend of mine thought the audience reaction, which was a standing ovation with whoops and hollers, was a little too insider; too self-appreciative. But I thought, rather, that the crowd was reacting in the moment to the exquisite dancing and mind-mending choreography.

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