“MAX” – Connecting to Ohad Naharin’s Choreography

Posted on 20 February 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

(Video: A trailer for BAM’s presentation of Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s MAX)

This is an excerpt from “Two Views of Batsheva: Ohad Naharin’s Furo and MAX,” which was published on The Winger on May 17, 2008.  The Batsheva Dance Company will perform MAX in Santa Barbara (Feb. 24), San Diego (Feb. 26), Los Angeles (Feb. 28 – Mar. 1), and Brooklyn, NY (Mar. 4-7).

* * *

During the brief blackouts in Ohad Naharin’s MAX, I quickly tore my eyes away from the stage to steal glances at my friend Nitzan.  Each time I caught variations of the same expression on his face: eyes wide with amazement and mouth stretched into an even wider grin.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a “dance dork” (a few of my friends and I threw around this term frequently during graduate school). With my penchant for dance history and analysis, I’m probably not the typical audience member.  Give me a brilliantly-crafted piece and I will fall in love, counting the ways in which the choreography captures my attention and my affection.

Love at first sight is possible in the arena of dance, but sometimes even the most excellent work takes a bit of time to win over my heart fully.  Such was the case with Ohad Naharin’s MAX.  I first saw MAX in December, and due to fatigue, I didn’t take in the dance with the freshest eyes.  When I re-read my files before this second viewing, I saw that I had taken only a few hasty notes which focused on extremely satisfying sections marked by fine compositional structure.  But after tonight’s performance of MAX, I’m in love. At least in my eyes, the work as a whole is indeed brilliant.

Ohad Naharin's "MAX"

Photo: Ohad Naharin’s MAX. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

MAX’s movement is mesmerizing and wide-ranging, from tightly gestural to gloriously full-bodied, from slow and steady to sudden and speedy.  At times the dancers work with a meticulous sense of control, while at other points they perform with breathtaking abandon.

While inventive and well-executed movement alone can captivate me, MAX also offers plenty of compositional excitement (I told you I was a dance dork!).  The pacing of this work was for me, in a word, perfect.  Naharin often indulges in one compositional mechanism for longer than many other dancemakers, but the choreographic technique never overstays its welcome – it just blossoms fully.

Here’s one example: a dancer tilts wildly out of kilter in a virtuoso solo and then is swept into an explosion of movement from the company, which is scattered across the stage in small groups, each of which has its own phrase; together, the ensemble paints the space with their bodies, arms and legs leaving traces of motion behind them.  Out of this grows another solo, which again dissolves into the company’s grouped dancing.  After only a few cycles I know what to expect, but my mind still delights in searching for the start of each solo and enjoys the wash of movement from the group.

Here and elsewhere, Naharin senses the right moment for a shift and recharges my attention. Sometimes blackouts clear the slate, but more often my eyes are refreshed by extreme juxtapositions: stillness and motion; unison and organized chaos; slow and fast; small and large; smooth and sharp; full ensemble sections and trios or solos.

MAX excited me but in a different way than some of Naharin’s more overtly theatrical productions like Deca Dance, Zachacha, and AnaphaseDeca Dance, for one, is absolute fun – I’ve seen it win over several audiences easily.  But MAX is in another category.  It doesn’t have the theatrical elements which can engage less-seasoned audience members.  There is no set, no narrative, and no characters (though for me the gestural motifs, repeated tableaux, and chanting create a sense of a tribe with its own unique rituals).  There are no displays of emotion despite one usage of a smile.  The dancers are dressed in simple shorts and tanks rather than more elaborate costumes.

Furthermore, MAX itself is not an “easy” work.  The sound score is challenging.  Melodious music played by traditional, recognizable instruments is replaced by low unidentifiable sounds, grating industrial noises, deep eerie male voices speaking in an invented language and droning in counting sections, and long periods of silence.  Some people might consider the movement aesthetic challenging as well; there is no attempt at the prettiness of ballet or of some modern techniques despite the inclusion of recognizable classical positions.  And in a work that centers so much on composition, the choice of choreographic tools might also prove taxing to certain audience members.  The frequent usage of movement accumulations, with repeated movements building into longer and longer phrases, may wear on some viewers’ eyes.

So I while I loved the structure and was moved by MAX, I found myself wondering on what level Nitzan (or any non-dance dork) was connecting to the work.  Were less seasoned dance viewers enjoying the work’s formal elements?  Would they too be moved by the dance?

The answer: yes.  The audience clapped enthusiastically for several sets of bows.  And as Nitzan’s animated facial expressions suggested, he did indeed enjoy the concert.  We talked excitedly about the choreography and the performance of it as we meandered back towards our neighborhood, and without my even asking, he talked poetically about how he connected to the work.  MAX was, he said, “Food for the soul.”  You can’t get much better than that!

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      *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.

      11 Comments For This Post

      1. Rebecca Bruno Says:

        Thank you for this post. I am so looking forward to seeing MAX here in San Diego next week! Though I had trouble connecting to Shalosh/Three when I saw it three years ago, I have found Naharin’s latest works like Mamootot to be most interesting. Something about the stark quality of an empty stage and subtle, quiet costumes with dancers whose movement is densely layered with physical qualities – one moment they sweep the space in vigorous bounds, the next one dancer’s supple gestures tranquilize the entire performance space.

      2. Deborah Friedes Says:

        Thanks Rebecca! I hope you’ll enjoy the performance this week – I’d be interested to hear what you think of it, so feel free to write.

      3. Evan Says:

        What a wonderful review, Deborah! I cannot wait to see this next week at BAM – I’ll be there opening night. Stay tuned for a full report.

      4. Deborah Friedes Says:

        Thanks Evan! I’m glad you’ll get to see MAX, and I hope I’ll get to hear (or, well, read) what you think about it.

      5. Amnon Says:

        Just came back from the show in San Deigo. I was touched by this wonderful performance in ways I can’t express yet. There was a talk with the rehersal director after the perpormance and he used these 3 terms that I thought captured some of it: passion, explosive power and creative imagination.
        My girlfriend was happy it was so short. They lost her in the first minute …

      6. Deborah Friedes Says:

        I’m glad you got to see this, and even happier to hear that you were moved as well. I agree that those three terms are very fitting – thank you for sharing them!

      7. mo carter Says:

        just saw MAX at BAM….arrived late, but what I did see was breath taking at times, Ohad Naharin has a way (as well as his dancers) of giving u the grit with you gold…hell i’ll take it all
        epecailly liked the counting part…i was trying to learn the numbers, but gave up to focus on the dancers…yeah i’m glad i went, and hope to see that dance again, peace

      8. Deborah Friedes Says:

        Mo and Ditty, I’m glad to hear both of you went and enjoyed MAX so much!

        Ditty, I e-mailed you as well regarding classes, but for the record, I don’t believe there are any Gaga people classes in New York at this time.

      9. Ditty Vick Says:

        I went to see the Batsheva Dance Company tonight at BAM….and am very intrigued….do you know if there are any GaGa People classes in New York?


      10. Daniel Says:

        I also saw MAX at BAM a few weeks ago. I have to say that it’s my favorite work out of the four Batsheva performances that I’ve seen since last summer. Naharin managed to created a mood that was nondescript and at times brilliantly confusing. The one thing that I was thinking while watching was “sensuous apocalypse,” if that makes sense. The smiles were also creepy as hell.

        Anyways, thanks for the review Deborah.

      11. Deborah Friedes Says:

        Hi Daniel,
        Thanks for sharing your reaction! I love the term “sensuous apocalypse” – very evocative.

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