Ohad Naharin’s “Deca Dance” in Israel: A Cycle Completed

Events, Israeli Choreographers, Israeli Companies, My Reflections, Performances, Video Views

(Video: The Batsheva Dance Company in Deca Dance)

Whenever possible, I try to publish my writings from last year in conjunction with a related event that’s happening now.  As the Batsheva Dance Company embarks on an extensive North American tour and takes Ohad Naharin’s Deca Dance on the road, it seems like the right moment to re-post my writing on the work.

I first published this article as “A Cycle Completed: Deca Dance in Israel” on The Winger on July 11, 2008.

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It’s fitting that I saw the Batsheva Ensemble perform the latest version of Ohad Naharin’s Deca Dance at the Suzanne Dellal Center last week.  You see, Deca Dance is the piece that drew me here to Israel.  I wrote my Fulbright grant proposal having only seen the Batsheva Dance Company perform an earlier incarnation of this work (albeit 3 times).   I hadn’t seen any of Naharin’s other dances, nor had I seen any other Israeli companies.   Now – 4 years after I last saw Deca Dance, 9 and 1/2 months after landing in Israel, 2 days after finishing the term of my Fulbright grant, and 90-some dance concerts later – I feel I have come to the end of a cycle.

I set out to learn about the wider field of Israeli contemporary dance, and although there is still more to explore, I have a much deeper understanding of dance’s history in Israel as well as the scope of the field today.  I devoted a considerable amount of time to independent choreographers and to companies other than Batsheva, but again and again, my attention returned to the origin of my interest, the center point of Israeli contemporary dance.

With many avenues of entry, my research on this company was extraordinarily rich.  To learn about the past, I sorted through files of newspaper clippings, viewed old repertoire on video at the Dance Library of Israel, and heard Batsheva’s history retold by former dancers and directors.  To learn about Batsheva’s more recent years, I traveled with the Batsheva Ensemble, spoke with company dancers and ensemble members, studied Gaga, and attended live performances: Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot, Zachacha, Seder, MAX, Shalosh, and Furo; Sharon Eyal’s Bertolina and Makarova Kabisa; and several evenings featuring short creations by company dancers.

And then came Deca Dance.

Just as I have changed, so too has Deca Dance, an unfixed assemblage of excerpts from Ohad Naharin’s repertory. Sure, there were some old favorites which I recognized from past versions, most notably the accumulative “Echad Mi Yodea” segment and the perennial crowd pleaser, “Dancing with the Audience” (and at this show the audience members invited onstage were more than willing to participate, with one man hamming it up to great applause).

But much of this Deca Dance was built from segments of the more recent MAX, Shalosh, and Seder – none of which existed when I last saw Deca Dance in 2004 – and there was even a brand new female duet to an unusual rendering of Ravel’s “Bolero.”   Having seen these later works multiple times, I found myself engaged in an interplay with this new Deca Dance: expecting certain sequencing, guessing what would come next, cataloging where I had seen each segment.  The direct contrast of these excerpts next to older sections and the absence of other portions that I remembered from my previous Deca Dance viewings provided a chance to reflect on what I perceive as a shift in Ohad Naharin’s choreography towards sparer works which emphasize marvelously textured movement and finely tuned compositional forms over theatricality.

As I place Deca Dance within the context of Naharin’s repertory, Batsheva’s history, and the larger frame of Israeli contemporary dance, I realize how much I have gained from my research.  I love being able to look at a dance from different angles, and with the information I have gathered, I now have a tempting menu of choices for how to view each performance.

I also have had the pleasure of watching the same dancers develop over the course of the season and talking with them offstage.  As I’m sure many of you know, it’s a delight to watch dancers that you know, to seek them out during the sections at which you know they excel, and to find your attention captured unexpectedly by them when they perform something with added nuance or new skill.

A part of me wishes that my Fulbright could continue – after all, it’s been a dream to structure my own time and pursue independent research with few restraints! – but I am blessed with the gifts of this grant as I complete this cycle and start the next.

* * *

You can see the Batsheva Dance Company’s production of Deca Dance in Houston (January 28), Philadelphia (February 3), Chicago (February 7), Ann Arbor (February 15), and Vancouver (February 20-21).  The company will perform Shalosh (Three) and MAX in other locations throughout North America.

Related Articles on Dance In Israel

Related Links

*This post was made possible thanks to a Fulbright student grant funded by the U.S.-Israel Educational Foundation and hosted by the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.


  • Hi Deborah,

    Thanks for your wonderful coverage of dance in Israel as part of your Fulbright grant! You’ve done an excellent job.

    I hope that in the future that dancers, choreographers, teachers, researchers and others who receive grants to explore different aspects of dance around the world consider the public sharing, primarily through blogs and the Internet, of their experiences and findings an important component of their projects. Too often, I believe, fascinating research and insights are shared only within a small circle when a much larger audiences can be engaged.

  • Deborah,
    Thank you so much for your writings over the past few months.
    As I prepare to continue my journey and return to Israel, your posts have been an almost uncanny reminder of my past – your bus to Qiryat Shmona picked you up on the corner of Kaplan and Ibn Gvirol opposite the building I used to work in, the high school dance departments that sound like the one I studied at and more -and they have touched me more than I can say.
    You have also created a very long ‘To See’ list for me. Not to mention a ‘To Do’ list – the Shavuot festival in Mizpe Ramon is already on my mental calendar as I get ready to divide up ‘the holidays’ between the various relatives!!
    I hope you will continue keeping the winger readers up to date on your next endavour. Be’Hazlacha.

  • I just saw Deca Dance last night at Purchase and I am still vibrating from it. While I loved “Echad Mi Yodea” and “Dance with an Audience”, and was taken in by the other works. However, I was bothered by two things having only peripherally to do with the dance. The first being no way to tell what dance was being performed and no way to tell who the dancers were. The second is that I believe Mr. Naharan was at the performance, yet he did not take a bow with his dancers.

    While I do not know Mr. Naharan, nor have I ever seen his work before, I find it somewhat arrogant to neglect the audience in its need or desire to identify who is dancing what and also their need and desire to acknowledge the creator of the works. Especially works like his that impose his signature on everything that the dancers do.

    • Hi Lance,

      Interesting – I’m surprised that there wasn’t much information in the program! Did they list what works this version of Deca Dance drew on, or were there absolutely no notes? I know when I saw it this summer, the program listed the original works that were excerpted, but I don’t think these were put in order.

      As for the dancers, I don’t think I’ve seen any programs here that have specified which dancers were performing in each section (this stretches beyond Batsheva – other than ballet companies and some older modern companies, I don’t see this much these days).

      I know it can be frustrating to not have more information – I’m also typically of the sort that wants to know as much as possible. But I’m honestly not sure at what stage of the game the gaps in the program content were made, and it might not have been a top-down decision from the artistic side of things.

      Ah, if only programs always had everything we wanted!

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