Divide and Re-form

Ohad Naharin redefines spectacle

Ohad Naharin's stunning Anaphaza, performed at the Lincoln Center Festival in 2003, took its name from a stage in mitosis in which daughter chromosomes move to opposite sides of a cell. In that piece, the dancers of Batsheva, the Israeli company Naharin directs, implied separation and bonding in diverse and imaginative ways. At one point they selected partners from the audience, brought them onstage and performed for and with them.

Naharin's most recent company work Telophaza, also presented by the LCF, refers to the final stage of mitosis in which new nuclei are formed. Compared to Anaphaza and the beautiful small-scale Mamootot (2003)—shown last year in the Mark Morris Dance Center's intimate performance space—Telophaza focuses more on groups than on individuals. Naharin brilliantly deploys a playful army of performers who group and regroup into squadrons that only occasionally thrust individuals into prominence.

We, the spectator platoon, interact with the dancers as a unit and at a distance. At one point, Rachel Osborne's calm, taped voice urges us to copy gestures she mutely executes in a close-up projected video along with the onstage dancers, becoming more and more energetic. Toward the end of the piece, the 20 company members sit facing us on chairs, and, again guided by Osborne, we're invited to touch parts of our bodies while pondering certain questions, like "Touch your chin and think that you're enjoying yourself." When she gets us on our feet and says, "Now dance," the performers rise and walk away while the audience—although studded with the shy and the squeamish—cuts loose. For a minute, the State Theater rocks. These two audience participation interludes also serve in lieu of intermissions, like the exercises you're supposed to do on airplanes to keep your feet from dropping off.

Four video screens with live feed, set up at the back, introduce us to company members' close-up faces; they're scrutinizing the scene. As, one by one, they leave the camera stations and feed into an ongoing dance that Yaniv Abraham has begun, others enter via openings at the rear and replace them. So we know these people, yet don't know them, since they so quickly engage as a squad in the powerful movement—limber but precise—that travels over the stage. So this is what they were preparing for at the outset when they dropped down, set their hands on the floor, and bounced for a long time to music that sounded like a funereally slow hora.

In addition to the company dancers, the cast includes 18 members of the Batsheva Ensemble, Naharin's junior company. As Telophaza unfolds, I begin to feel as if I'm watching a colorful, marvelously organized but utterly crazy parade celebrating who knows what. The playlist includes unfamiliar examples of Near and Far-Eastern pop groups, such as the Bollywood Brass Band, along with Bruce Springsteen. Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi) contributes vivid lighting, and Rakefet Levy's superb costumes are a crucial part of the work. The performers have several versions of the basic outfit—a sleekly fitting leotard cum gym suit—in different colors and in white (with white bathing caps for the younger group). Muted blues, greens, and grays give way to sparkly metallics, then to bright red, orange, pink, or chartreuse (worn with smiles). In the most festive display, everyone wears a unitard in a different bold print.

The dancers are remarkable, whether they're marching shoulder to shoulder, gesturing in unison, or exploding into a pointillist sea of squiggles. Their steps dig into the ground, expand over space. They can shoot into the air, fall, and rise without apparent effort. Their legs twist and fling so freely that their hip joints look oiled. In one interlude, we get to see just how individually marvelous they can be. The cameras are set in a circle framed by a pool of light. While performers walk the perimeter, various ones spell each other in the center. Sharon Eyal, Matan David, Stefan Ferry, Danielle Agami, Mami Shimazaki, Adi Zlatin! Leo Larus is a master at moving from fierce, on-a-dime stops to sinuous melts. Caroline Broussard, left alone while the cameras are moved to their original positions, struggles with her own recalcitrant body. The taped cheering voices and musical rave-ups seem almost redundant. We know champs when we see them.

As my eye scans some of the dense passages, I notice curious events—trial and error moments. A man exits laboriously, crawling on one foot, one hand, head, other foot, and so on. A woman sits placidly on the face of a supine man. A woman bites another's raised elbow. But intimacy is rare, which may be why the last few moments are so startling. The company members, lined up with their backs to us, are looking down at something. The camera shows it to us: the closeup faces of Yoshifumi and Kristin Inao, who are almost naked and making love. In the final seconds of the work, her face remains on the screen, staring at us, while he dances violently in a strobe light, and the only other person on the flickering stage, a woman, makes her way along a row of chairs, stepping carefully from one seat to another. Unification can be a temporary state. Cells divide, governments topple. We might as well embrace whatever we have, joyfully, while we still can.

 
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