Performing Arts: Dance
February 5, 2017
The Batsheva Dance Company never fails to create an alternative universe that can compel, inspire, perplex, and confound even the most seasoned dance viewer. In Last Work, a New York premiere by artistic director Ohad Naharin, we see his stunningly virtuosic dancers enact a series of vignettes that for all their abstraction, culminate in an explosive, explicitly political apotheosis. If you’ve ever worried about the impossibility of peace in the Middle East, this work will make visible that anxiety.

For the entire sixty-five minute duration, a young woman in a blue dress and sneakers runs apace without going anywhere. The sheer physical stamina and determination she exudes while staying in the exact same place, is a simple but disconcerting metaphor. As the dancers populate the stage, we see their signature contemporary movement (based on Naharin’s gaga method) – wildly intense and explosive movement coupled with an astonishing control that oscillates between animal-like and utterly human. Near the beginning one dancer slowly moves his shoulder across, his elbow and arm follow in a wave-like pattern, as his foot moves in the opposite direction. What begins as a methodical isolation accelerates into an inhuman liquidity that distorts our perception and morphs the human body into visualization of invisible phenomena.

The Batsheva dancers are both stunningly virtuosic and poignantly human, but in Last Work, they also go insane. In a steady, methodical crescendo that careens from dance historical and high art references like the ancient Greek Spinario to obscene self-gratification, Naharin juxtaposes poetic subtlety with hitting you over the head in an artistic reflection of the vulgarity of our political moment. Three years ago, in an epic work that was boycotted by certain groups in New York with the headline “there is no art in apartheid,” Naharin – who has criticized Israeli policies towards Palestinians – had his dancers continually leaping into the unknown off a towering wall.

This time, he made sure everyone could understand: after an obsessive-compulsive cleaning of a weapon that bordered on masturbation erupted into a shower of confetti, a dancer came onstage waving a huge white flag, a la Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table, that iconic and explicit condemnation of the rise of Hitler’s fascism in 1932. Yes, yes, yes: we surrender, he seemed to say. Now, we all want to know, will they?
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson

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