An Ode to Batsheva’s Dancers

Batsheva Dance Company in "Hora." Photo by Gadi Dagon.

The members of Batsheva Dance Company look dangerous, predatory. They’re feral cats, at once totally in control and totally wild. You feel like they’re always on the verge of boiling over—always just about to explode.

I saw these creatures perform Batsheva director Ohad Naharin’s Hora at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last night. And though the work, like all of Naharin’s pieces, was a good time—darkly funny, set to synthesized snippets of very familiar melodies (the Star Wars theme, anyone? or maybe a little “kill the wabbit” Wagner?)—it was the dancers who knocked the wind out of me.

While they’re fantastic movers, the Batsheva dancers aren’t all technicians in a traditional sense. I don’t think I’d want to see most of them in a ballet class. Then again, maybe I would: They make you want to watch them do ANYTHING. I would gladly watch the hypnotic Iyar Elezra tie her shoes for hours. She’s a tractor beam—you’re immediately drawn in. And there’s something fascinating about the way all the dancers arrive at positions. There’s no balletic “here-I-go-from-point-A-to-point-B.” They settle into a shape the way you might wriggle into a pair of jeans: a few calculated adjustments before everything zips together.

The most remarkable parts of Hora—of any of Naharin’s pieces, really—are when the dancers move in unison. They harmonize well; there’s zero confusion about what the choreography is supposed to look like, and a current of electricity runs from body to body, connecting them all. Yet every dancer’s treatment of each phrase is utterly his or her own. They somehow embody both community and individuality at the same time. How is that not an oxymoron? I don’t know. But it isn’t.

A lot of the Batsheva dancers’ unique qualities come out of Gaga, a movement language Naharin invented (years before Lady Gaga came around, for the record). Gaga is all about self-awareness and visualization; verbal instructions like “imagine the floor is getting very hot” or simply “thick” inspire ways of moving. Naharin often has his dancers improvise as he choreographs, giving them a prompt and letting them go. So watching parts of his dances is like doing a puzzle backwards: What instruction did Naharin give that generated all these different responses?

As you can probably tell, I’m having a hard time putting my finger on what it is, exactly, that makes these dancers so extraordinary. And in dance, if a picture is worth 1,000 words, a video is worth 1,000,000. So here are some excerpts from Hora. See the magic for yourself:

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