The Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s Hora. Photo by Gadi Dagon.
There’s a certain baseline of excitement when it comes to watching a preview of a world premiere, especially when it’s by a world renowned choreographer like Ohad Naharin. As you might imagine, that baseline is pretty high.
So I was excited (dare I say thrilled?) to attend the press showing of Ohad Naharin’s Hora shortly before its debut in Jerusalem on May 18th. And, I’m happy to report, my excitement only grew as I saw snippets of the latest work by Batsheva Dance Company’s artistic director. Besides being new, Hora feels remarkably fresh (and here I’ll note that my newspaper write-up of the preview was titled “Fresh and Exciting” – two truly fitting adjectives for the dance).
As a dance historian, I was delighted to find more treasures in this showing of Hora besides the basic pleasure of previewing a new, promising work. Certain elements of Naharin’s dance conjure up prominent images from other choreographers’ masterworks. The dancers repeatedly step into fifth position with one arm outstretched on a high diagonal and fingers pointing down to the floor – a slight variation on a familiar stance from George Balanchine’s celebrated Serenade. And during one section, as the sounds of Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune filled the theater – transformed by Isao Tomita’s synthesizer – I couldn’t help comparing the bent wrists of the Batsheva dancers to the angled wrists of the dancers in Vaslav Nijinsky’s Faune.
I don’t know what proportion of these similarities were intentionally designed or purely perceived. Naharin explained that the music came late in his process for Hora, so the movements which reminded me of Nijinsky’s choreography may well have been set prior to the selection of Debussy’s composition. When I brought up Faune‘s choreographic history in a question-and-answer session, Naharin acknowledged that he was very aware of this – but he also reminded me that I’m bringing my own particular knowledge and interpretations to the work. Quite true. Yet Hora *is* a dance full of points of departure. And my historically-minded brain is psyched that the dance is rich with such possible references.
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The article below was first published as “Fresh and Exciting” in the Jerusalem Post on May 15, 2009.
Fresh and Exciting
“Let’s stop here,” Ohad Naharin instructs his dancers during a showing of Hora. A delighted smile plays around the choreographer’s lips. His eyes sparkle as he drinks in the sight of his latest creation. With the paneled set drenched in a rich leaf-green color and eleven of the Batsheva Dance Company’s exquisite dancers decorating the space, Naharin’s new piece is indeed a sight to see.
Naharin, the artistic director of Batsheva, started working on Hora six months ago in a process which he likens to a playground with its own rules. He first met individually with each company member to develop movement material. After a month of separate rehearsals, the dancers joined together in the studio for the first time.
Throughout the creative process, Naharin encouraged the dancers to connect to silliness and develop the ability to laugh at themselves. The choreographer himself laughs as he tries to explain why there are eleven dancers in Hora. (Batsheva has over twenty dancers, who switch off in two casts.) First singing a line from the liturgical “Echad Mi Yodea” – “eleven are the stars in Joseph’s dream” – then claiming that there are eleven stars onstage, Naharin jokingly remarks that there are also eleven players on a soccer team.
Asked about the title, Naharin says that he was simply drawn to the sound of the word, adding that a “hora” is a type of Israeli dance. But he is quick to note that the word carries different meanings in other languages. It is not a fixed, universally understood concept. Rather, it is a point of departure.
Indeed, Naharin’s Hora is filled with a series of reference points that serve as springboards, launching the viewer from the reassuring comfort of the familiar into the thrilling exploration of the unfamiliar. Identifiable ballet positions crop up in the choreography; so too do splits and one movement which could be a cousin of the twist.
But the dancers persistently leave behind these more common motions, investigating all the options available to their pliable bodies. They find new angles and discover unusual positions. One moment they smoothly trace long arcs through space and the next they condense their energy into quick, sharp gestures. The elements of shape, speed and texture are constantly reassembled into eye-catching combinations. Sometimes this leads to surprising effects, such as when one couple’s rapid staccato movements make them appear as if they are dancing in a strobe light.
The score also transports Hora from the realm of the recognizable to a more unusual, otherworldly place. Although Naharin began creating movement to the steady beat of a metronome, he finally chose several well-known classical compositions, later revitalized by Isao Tomita’s synthesizer. In the hands of the pioneering Japanese arranger, the famous melodies of Claude Debussy, Modest Mussorgsky, Richard Strauss and other composers take on a futuristic tone and original sound.
Reflecting on his work, Naharin talks about the frequent use of references but emphasizes the freshness of every moment. Each moment holds the possibility of new delights that, the choreographer explains, are available to all audience members. Crafted with a playful attitude of curiosity and insistently inviting the imagination to push beyond familiar references, Hora is thoroughly infused with this air of freshness.
Rachael Osborne and Iyar Elezra in Ohad Naharin’s Hora. All photos by Gadi Dagon.
Hora will be performed from June 9-13 at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv. Additional upcoming performances include Herzliya (June 2-3), Haifa (June 6), Netanya (June 15), and Givatayim (June 18).
Related articles about Ohad Naharin’s choreography on Dance In Israel
- “MAX – Connecting to Ohad Naharin’s Choreography”
- “Getting to Know the Batsheva Ensemble”
- “Mamootot – Challenging the Performer-Spectator Divide”
- “Ohad Naharin’s Deca Dance in Israel: A Cycle Completed”
- “Ohad Naharin to Receive 2009 Scripps/ADF Award”
Related Articles about Gaga on Dance In Israel
- “Going Gaga: My Introduction to Gaga Dance Classes”
- “Gaga: Ohad Naharin’s Movement Language, in His Own Words”
- “Gaga: A Foreigner Explores Ohad Naharin’s Movement Language”
- “Ohad Naharin on Gaga (Video)”
- “A Glimpse into the Gaga Workshop”