Batsheva Dance Company’s “Hora” is an Hour Well Spent

Photo by Gadi Dagon

“I was first in line at the box office on the day tickets went on sale for Batsheva,” a friend told me in the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s lobby on the way into the Israeli dance company’s performance of Hora. If I didn’t go under the auspices of press, I would have done the same.

Highly physical, abstract, yet emotionally freighted, Ohad Naharin’s works for Batsheva Dance Company are incredibly satisfying, and have made the company a regular at BAM. Hora, which only ran through this weekend, is performed by eleven dancers and is set to an eclectic assortment of western classics adapted for the synthesizer, including Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” Grieg’s “Solveig’s Song,” Strauss’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” (better known as the theme for 2001: A Space Odyssey), and Wagner’s thundering “Ride of the Valkyries.”

Hora begins with the dancers sitting on a long bench at the back of the stage, and a calculated walk in unison downstage. Together, they strike a series of poses and gestures, some frontal and some in profile, riffing on ballet’s formalism but entirely idiosyncratic. From there, the work spins off into a sea of movement, much of it individual, although duets, trios, and small groups coalesce in and out; the dancers periodically return to the opening phrase and line. The movement itself is dense, articulate, unpredictable, and definitely sensuous (the women in particular revel in a voluptuous precision). Quality-wise, the alert exactitude that pushes the movement towards its full potential is exhilarating–to say nothing of refreshing—to see.

Any experience of art is a subjective one, but nonetheless, I was taken aback by Alastair Macaulay’s scathing review of Hora in the New York Times. To obsess over the difference between fifth and third positions displayed onstage here (a matter of crossing the feet a few inches more or less when standing) was to entirely miss the larger arc of Hora and the movement vocabulary that drives it. As for his accusation of Naharin’s “making his dancers look like cogs in his surreal machine,” I can only say I’ve suffered through many an evening where the dancers are pawns in banal choreography that smacks of blind adherence to well-worn forms and yes, includes consistently crossed fifth positions. In an era when we are rehashing familiar variations on ballet vs. classic modern dance vs. post-modern vocabularies, Naharin and Batsheva represent the possibility of a different movement language and understanding of dance. What a relief.

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