April 8, 2019
I wish I had not known in advance that Ohad Naharin’s work titled “Venezuela,” a) had nothing to do with Venezuela, and b) would be the same choreography lasting forty minutes, danced twice to different music. Clearly the impact would have been different for someone watching that choreographic experiment unfold in real time. Either way, the experiment ended up being less radical and exciting that one hoped.
Naharin’s dancers are exquisite and capable of stunning contemporary dance virtuosity. In this piece, we saw some of that movement frequently interrupted with sequences of competition ballroom dancing, pedestrian movement, and outright posturing, to strange and somewhat comedic effect. A man breaks out into a skip around the room, soon the whole cast joined in, flying across the stage skipping forward, backwards and in circles, impressively avoiding each other.
They later form a small group and another man walks across the stage, stalking and talking into a mike, with the group moving in slow motion around him. He soon breaks out into shocking rap lyrics by Biggie Smalls, “I just wanna rape ya,” which in the era of #MeToo sounded even more offensive than perhaps intended. In another sequence, the women ride the men like lumbering elephants, they slowly crawl towards us, then turn around like a herd and go back upstage; the mind started to wander. Later, we see some blank canvases unfurled, which the second time around turn out to be recognizable flags of different countries – make what you will of that moment, the potential for politicization is implied but not followed through.
The first half is accompanied by Gregorian chants, to particularly unrelated and disjointed effect. The second half was to a soundtrack designed by Maxim Waratt. The idea that dance need not be accompanied by music is not new, and neither is ignoring the sounds and/or music that accompany a dance. So it was unclear what Naharin discovered by using the two radically different accompaniments that were not necessarily connected to each other or to what was happening onstage, other than to perplex his audience.
A choreographer’s experiment with attention, disjunction, and non-sequitors, Venezuela invited the audience to question, observe more carefully, and eventually disengage a little bit, when the ploy became clear. As always, Naharin’s work invited deep reflection, but this time even his fabulous dancers couldn’t push it over the finish line.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson