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Batsheva Dance Company Premieres Sharon Eyal’s “Bill”

Posted on 07 May 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Sharon Eyal’s Bill, in process


Spurred by this shriek, the 21 dancers of the Batsheva Dance Company spring into action.  They arch their backs, splay their hands, shoot their legs towards the ceiling, and vault high into the air.  Amidst layers of throbbing rhythms, punctuated by more guttural cries and sharp claps, the dancers organize and reorganize themselves into constantly changing groupings.  The ebb and flow of one large group’s rocking steps provides a mesmerizing baseline for a smaller ensemble’s shape shifting, which in turn sets off one man’s virtuosic, almost mechanical movement.

Sharon Eyal’s Bill.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

It is choreographer Sharon Eyal who has cast this spell, which goes by the name of Bill and is the Batsheva Dance Company’s newest production. Like Batsheva’s artistic director, Ohad Naharin, Eyal is currently celebrating her twenty-year anniversary with the company.  She joined the troupe as a teenager and quickly captivated crowds while performing many memorable parts.  Now offstage in the role of Batsheva’s house choreographer, Eyal is keeping the audience’s attention with her unique creations.

Bobbi Smith and Iyar Elezra in Sharon Eyal’s Bill.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Of her latest work, Eyal explained in a press release, “I came to Bill with a very clear concept.  It was easy for me to explain what I see and imagine; I could verbalize the work in a very precise way.”  Working with the full company and with her seasoned team of collaborators – co-creator Guy Bachar, soundtrack designer Ori Lichtik, and lighting designer Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi) – Eyal brought her vision to life.

Reflecting further, Eyal added, “I feel I am in an endless process, and the creation Bill continues my previous works, Makarova Kabisa and Killer Pig.”  While Bill certainly shares the masterful maneuvering of large groups, the looping of repeated movements, and the extreme physicality that characterize the choreographer’s earlier works, it is also marked by a highly distinctive look.  The dancers are outfitted in full-length, skin-toned unitards, and their hair is similarly colored; meanwhile, their eyes all glint the same shade of light blue thanks to tinted contact lenses. Eyal notes, “The uniform clothing, the skin color and the identical eyes unite the whole group and bring out the soul and the special physicality of each and every dancer.”

Sharon Eyal’s Bill.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Besides the striking visual effect of the dancers’ costumes, Bill is filled with vivid images. Five dancers prowl on all fours like predatory creatures, surging forward and then sinking back onto their haunches. Three women assemble numerous variations on a heart shape using their assorted body parts, backed by a sea of dancers who form miniature hearts with their fingers, hands, and forearms. An enormous crowd clustered center stage suddenly disperses in all directions with a burst of angular jumps, creating the effect of a firework exploding midair.

And then there are the seemingly infinite permutations of group formations. In tight clumps or spread-out packs, and in trios or as a 21-member strong mass, the dancers travel across the stage with unison stepping patterns and more quirkily styled, technically complex movements.  Sometimes, watching Bill is like observing the inner workings of a finely-tuned mechanical watch; each person, and each small group, is necessary for the whole to function. When these dancers come together, painting the entire space with their collective movement, there is indeed a sense of magic.

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The Batsheva Dance Company performs Sharon Eyal’s Bill at the Suzanne Dellal Center on May 7-8 and 10-14 before moving to Herzliya on May 15.  For more information about tickets and future performances, visit Batsheva’s website.

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Batsheva Dance Company: Ohad Naharin’s “Shalosh” (“Three”)

Posted on 15 February 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s Three

Five years after its premiere, Ohad Naharin’s Shalosh (Three) still lures audiences to the Suzanne Dellal Center – and judging by the enthusiastic curtain calls last Saturday night, the work continues to captivate crowds.  My preview of this run of Three was originally published in the Jerusalem Post as “Lucky Number ‘Three.'”

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Three by Ohad Naharin.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Addressing a small crowd in the Batsheva Dance Company’s studios during an open rehearsal of Three, artistic director and choreographer Ohad Naharin mused that we frequently revisit books, movies, and music. So why not revisit a dance?

Naharin proposes that Tel Aviv audiences do just that when Three, an evening-length work which premiered in February 2005, returns to the Suzanne Dellal Center this weekend.

Guy Shomroni and Sharon Eyal in Three by Ohad Naharin.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

“The showing of Three in Tel Aviv offers the viewer a renewed meeting with the work, which exists inside a constant process of development since its creation,” Naharin explained in a press release. “This process, in which the work is growing and being refined all the time, is just as meaningful in the company’s work as the process of creation before a premiere.”

At the rehearsal, Naharin elaborated why both of these processes are so vital.  “Since the premiere, the creation went through a lot of changes.  I like to think of the premiere as a birth, since it’s clear to everyone that birth is just one moment, and that afterwards many other things happen,” he reflected.  “There is no doubt that the work changed, improved, among other things because of the meeting with the dancers, who are very creative and musical themselves.  This is one of the reasons that I recommend for people to see the creation twice, at the beginning and after a year or two once it has gone through this process of ripening.”

Three by Ohad Naharin.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

In the case of Three, the work has enjoyed five years of ripening while remaining in Batsheva’s active repertory.  Consequently, original cast members who have stayed with the company as well as newer additions to the troupe have had ample opportunity to develop their interpretation of the dance, calibrating their embodiment of the choreography with previously elusive nuances and subtleties.

Nowhere is this maturation more important and beneficial than in a work such as Three, which in the absence of complex stagecraft and elaborate visual design reveals the movement and the dancers’ performance of it as the main subject.  Lit plainly but effectively by Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi) and clothed in Rakefet Levy’s basic, solid-colored tops and closely fitting cropped pants, the dancers approach Three’s sophisticated, multi-layered movement with a confident straightforwardness.

Three by Ohad Naharin.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

As the title suggests, Three contains three discrete sections, and Naharin’s compositional and musical choices provide each part with a distinctive feel.  In “Bellus,” set to Glenn Gould’s celebrated recording of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, a simple purity reflective of the music pervades both the dancers’ finely wrought solos and the more pared down, precise group work.  Brian Eno’s spare, evocative Neroli provides the soundscape for “Humus,” which features a flock of the company’s women methodically repositioning their bodies and shifting their spatial formation in an entrancing unison.

“Secus,” the final section, boasts a musical collage that stretches from the offbeat electronic stylings of AGF to the alluring Indian melodies of Kaho Naa Pyar Hai to the resonant harmonies of the Beach Boys.  This adventurously eclectic mix serves as a fitting backdrop for the audaciously quirky choreography.  From total stillness, the dancers burst into flurries of activity, creating a sense of organized chaos both in the space and within their bodies.  Their novel movement often defies description, but it constantly commands attention and inspires awe.

Three by Ohad Naharin.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Three’s extraordinarily rich physical texture can be attributed at least partly to the evolution of Naharin’s movement language, Gaga, in the early 2000s.  Naharin noted that just a few years prior to Three’s premiere, “Gaga became the heart of the daily practice of the company,” and he added, “this common language [Gaga] held the keys to the process” of making Three.  Indeed, the marvelous movement invention and robust embodiment which characterize Three are closely linked to the practice of Gaga, which expands the dancers’ ability to research movement possibilities and awakens their sensitivity to physical sensations.  Five years later, Batsheva’s dancers bring a deepened understanding of Gaga to their performance of this work.  And that’s reason enough to revisit Three for a second or even a third time.

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