Batsheva Dance Company has been called both "playful" and "punk," both "whimsical" and "dystopian."
It's a troupe with international roots and reach (it was co-founded by Martha Graham in 1964), yet deeply committed to its home in Tel Aviv.
The company pushes movement invention to virtuosic new levels. But at the same time, Batsheva's director and choreographer Ohad Naharin told Dance Magazine he likes "dancers who have the leftover baby in their bodies -- being without self-consciousness, letting movement echo their feelings."
In short, it's a company with room for contradictions, where many dimensions of life and art coexist in utterly surprising ways.
Currently the hottest ticket in New York, San Francisco, and across Europe, Batsheva will perform in Tulsa for the first time on Thursday, March 15 at 8pm, in the Williams Theatre of the PAC, 110 E. Second St. It's a one-night-only chance to catch the very cutting edge of contemporary dance.
Writing in the LA Times, critic Sara Wolf observed that "of the many reasons that audiences line up to see Batsheva, the most prominent remains the indulgent pleasure of watching highly intelligent, superbly articulate dancers at play in the fields of its artistic director's kinetic imagination."
And it all comes from "gaga."
Naharin, who became Batsheva's director in 1990, developed gaga, his company's signature movement language, in the aftermath of a back injury. (It has nothing at all to do with Lady Gaga, you may or may not be glad to know; the name is simply an expression of playfulness and childlike exploration.)
Naharin described it this way. "Gaga challenges multi-layer tasks. We are aware of the connection between effort and pleasure... We are aware of where we hold unnecessary tension, we let go only to bring life and efficient movement to where we let go.
"We are turning on the volume of listening to our body, we appreciate small gestures, we are measuring and playing with the texture of our flesh and skin. We might be silly, we can laugh at ourselves. We are aware of our explosive power and sometimes we use it. We change our movement habits by finding new ones. We can be calm and alert at once. We become available."
Not So Foreign.
The dancers work without mirrors to further cultivate this connection with pleasure and sensation. The physical and psychological perceptiveness encouraged by the gaga technique allows Naharin and his dancers to create some of the most radically inventive movement currently being produced in the world. It's movement that's so precise and unexpected that it can look almost other-than-human.
"Little that they do resembles conventional virtuosity or familiar styles," explained critic Deborah Jowitt, "yet the unusual shapes that their bodies pass through or settle into, plus their decisive strength and delicate variations of that, as well as their sensuality, can induce a kinesthetic response in spectators."
The works Batsheva brings to Tulsa this week -- MAX (2007) and B/olero (2008) -- are two of Naharin's most compelling. (Tulsa audiences got a taste of Naharin's work when the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet presented excerpts from his Decadance here in 2011.)
B/olero is a short dance for two women set to a synthesized version of Ravel's famous music of the same name. Ha'aretz, an Israeli news source, described it as "a surprising duet, luminous in its clarity."
MAX is another sort of beast: an hour-long piece with no intermission, in which 10 dancers must remain "in the moment" all the way through. The dancers wear earbuds, which transmit various cues and vocals and muffle other sounds, so that they directly experience only what's happening in their own bodies.
In an interview with Dance Magazine, one Batsheva dancer noted that with the earbuds in "you have to be very alert and sensitive, with the qualities of a night creature ready for whatever is going to happen."
The music for MAX was composed by Maxim Waratt, a pseudonym of Naharin's. Before his company's appearance in New York City last week, Naharin told the Brooklyn Rail that "a lot of what I do is about games and has to do with codes and rules, and Maxim Waratt is a part of this game.
"The game doesn't mean everything is taken lightly," he continued. "I actually take my game very seriously. The playfulness gives me perspective on how seriously we take ourselves, and reminds me to take what we do seriously, but not ourselves."
Bringing superstar troupes like Batsheva to Tulsa -- one stop on a tour that also includes cities like New York and Chicago -- is increasingly business-as-usual for Choregus Productions, which in the past several years has presented some of the most famous contemporary dance companies in the world.
"I view this performance as a wonderful opportunity to see one of the world's leading dance companies and to understand the influence the company has had on the contemporary dance scene," Choregus director Ken Tracy said. "And I am quite sure the audience will find it interesting -- and even like what they see."
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