The Batsheva Dance Company is based in Tel Aviv and was founded in 1964. Its members consider themselves ambassadors of the Israeli artistic community. Some people believe that Batsheva is a ploy to give the Israeli image a facelift and represent them in a cultured western light during a time of spreading anti-Israeli sentiment. This theory is probably true, but can they cut a rug or what? It is true that the company is partially funded by the Israeli government, but for a country to fund the arts, especially its most renowned dance company, is not abnormal, but commendable. Though there was no civil friction at this performance, others have been met with signs bearing slogans like “[X] people killed in [Y]: This is no time for dancing.”
The Arlington Theatre was almost full the night of the performance. As the curtain spread and colored light sprinkled onto the set, an ambiguous whistle seemed to be emanating from the stage. It was the kind of sound that would pass through the lips of a fat mustached man on his afternoon constitutional. It was impossible to know where the sound was coming from, but it was live and it had to be from someone in the theater.
It would be unusually inappropriate for an audience member to let out a two-minute chirp during the beginning of the show, but it is a possibility. You could see people in the crowd shifting their ears around for the origin, but to no avail; the “music” (I use quotations here because this was more of a drone) drowned the whistle in amplified sound and cast a shroud of drama and mystery over the whole event. I have to admit that this probably was not the best part of the performance.
As the dancers warmed up the stage in their scant jersey tank tops, they began to pair off into boy-girl couples. The dance started out somewhat romantically and then became slightly suggestive. A few seconds later, there was some pretty straight-forward humping. (I don’t mean to discredit the choreography; it was absolutely some of the most innovative humping I’ve ever seen.) There was face humping, leg humping and even “girl-looking-like-she’s-dead-yet-guy-still-humping” humping. This was all in just the first few minutes, and the crowd was committed.
The style of movement included a broad spectrum of gestures, but seemed to be mainly characterized by an erratic, joint-popping motion. It was an uncomfortable spectacle. Clean-shaven heads were jerking around stage in a robotic ceremony as the music droned on. The dancers seemed to use every muscle and tendon in their bodies. They jerked around the stage like puppets strung up by their hips, fingers and toes. It looked as if the choreographer, Ohad Naharin, was striving to string together the most unrelated and disjointed movements into one dance. At one point, there was even some obvious head banging.
At this point, the music gained momentum from a drone to what sounded like a chant in Hebrew. Not anything specifically religious; that’s just what they speak over there. There was an “Eraserhead” grumble in the background and a few serious voices seemed to be counting.
The only time the sound dramatically changed from this general mood was around the middle, in a very dramatic and impressive scene. Each performer had a “solo” and twitched around like malfunctioning automatons. Every dancer was assigned a specific sound but they all sounded a lot like an assembly line. This sequence clearly displayed the raw talent of these performers, and they were flipping out quite brilliantly.
The entire performance was laid out, more or less, like a palindrome, so everything that took place in the beginning happened again toward the end. The house lights went on and there was some apparent twitter about the lack of meaning or substance in the performance. I thought for a moment and agreed, but it didn’t bother me. I thought about the things that are meaningful in my life as I walked to my car. I got in, buckled my seatbelt, put Graceland in the CD player and drove home.