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Locating 2019 in Time and Space: Reflections on Ohad Naharin’s Latest Work

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Put together Ohad Naharin’s two most recent works – Venezuela (2017) and 2019 (2019) – and the titles alone create clear associations with space and time, respectively. Yet while Venezuela is unmoored from the geographical turf of its namesake, rooting itself instead in grounds of form and spectatorship, 2019 presents a full-bodied embrace (and full-throated interrogation) of the current moment – and, further, it delineates a specific location. If Venezuela exists in and expounds upon the world of the stage, 2019 exists very much in our world, spilling off the platform and onto our laps in Tel Aviv. We, the viewers, are in Israel, and so too is this work.

My instinct is frequently to focus on the movement of a work, but as 2019 echoed in my mind after two viewings, the elements of space and time surfaced repeatedly. With these two dimensions as the linchpins, I began sorting through my own multilayered reading of Naharin’s dance. Spoilers ahead – this is best read after you, too, have taken in 2019 and turned it over in your mind. 

I. Space: Studio Varda, Batsheva Dance Company’s largest rehearsal hall, is rendered unrecognizable by Gadi Tzachor’s stage design. Although the space of the work is unconventional – resembling a fashion show runway – 2019’s location comes sharply into focus as the opening announcements forbidding photography and cell phones are cheekily delivered in three languages: Hebrew.  English. Arabic. The first two are standard for Batsheva shows drawing an international crowd, but the inclusion of the third points to the site not only of the performance but of its subject matter. And when a dancer slowly turns his back to the audience during the Arabic announcement, hands raised as if apprehended, his physical position signals, perhaps, the work’s critical position in relation to its locale.  

II. Space and time: From this opening, bridging the pre-performance and performance worlds, 2019 alludes to the world outside Studio Varda with a series of references to “here” and “now.” Here: A soundtrack dominated by Hebrew lyrics, with a not insignificant dose of Arabic. A brief ululation. Now: The inclusion of songs in English and Japanese, perhaps a reflection of porous cultural borders in a globalized world (and perhaps a reflection of the artist’s personal life). Also now: Bold, strikingly individual clothing and edgy jewelry that would not be out of place on the runway or in a club, and that in some cases upends gender norms. Here: A line of dancers hopping rhythmically, their boots stomping on the floor and their leader briefly flicking his wrist as if kicking off a debka. Now: A movement vocabulary that at times would not be out of place at a club or in a music video, with hints of twerking, pelvises jutted out, saucy snaps, deep squats and soaring legs, explosive acrobatics, and suspended freezes. Also now: An attuned performance presence and physical facility nurtured by Gaga, Naharin’s decidedly contemporary training practice. Though less obvious to viewers from outside the field, this too is reflective of the moment.  

III. Time: The first time I saw 2019 was December 2, 2019. The second time was December 9, 2019. The third time will likely be in February 2020 – at which point, 2019 will automatically reference the past even while it exists in the present. Sharing its name with the year of its creation, Naharin’s work foregrounds the passage of time – and it is fitting that 2019 will exist in the world of 2020, 2021, and beyond, for the nowness of this work speaks to the ethos of a period rather than that of a specific, self-contained calendar year. It stretches back to the optimistic 1970 “BaShana HaBa’a” (“Next Year”) and to the honeyed voice of the Lebanese singer Fairouz crooning “Ana La Habibi” (“I Am for My Lover”), a voice that – even if recorded in 1995 as Google indicates – evokes an undefined, earlier golden age. It connects the childhood chant of “LaKova Sheli” (“My Hat has Three Corners”) to the chilling adult experience of Hanoch Levin’s “At, Ve’Ani, Ve’Hamilchama” (“You, Me, and the Next War”), penned after the Six-Day War of 1967. 2019 reflects at least a few decades, and perhaps, even a full lifetime; there are glimmers of light, hope, and peace – glimmers from the past, and of a more innocent, idealistic youth – but these shine out from a mature, darker view of the world.  

IV. Here and now: And yet, there is something about 2019 itself, as it unfolded in Israel. At the time of 2019’s premiere, Israel’s government was in an unprecedented situation. The year saw not one but two elections which failed to yield a governing coalition, and as audiences filed into Studio Varda in early December, the announcement of a third round of voting seemed increasingly inevitable. We are in a holding pattern: unable to move forward decisively, though time marches onward and decisions must be made. Meanwhile, the Israeli-Palestinian “situation” continues as “normal,” with Tel Aviv’s bubble briefly punctured by sirens indicating incoming rockets from Gaza on the morning of November 12. On this front, too, we are in a holding pattern: cycles of violence and fragile cease fires, a morally questionable status quo that is alternately upheld or upended by proclamations of building, annexation, sovereignty . . . 

V. Now, whether here or not: And yet, Naharin titled his work 2019, not Israel. 2019 – the year, though perhaps also the choreographic work – is not exclusively Israeli. The name 2019 obviates the necessity to translate or transliterate the title. We may all pronounce 2019 differently, but we do not need a multitude of alphabets to make it widely legible. And around the globe, 2019 had no shortage of political turmoil and impasses, conflict and violence, and -isms that threaten to rend relationships, dash dreams, and endanger lives.  

Batsheva Dance Company 2019

VI. Space and time: Reading 2019’s deployment of space and time as “here” and “now” provided the foundation for my initial reaction to Naharin’s creation. But excavating further, I found myself intrigued by the compositional workings of space and time in 2019. Naharin often talks about the interplay among many elements in his choreography, about the tensions and balances he creates for each world. If 2019 at first appears to amplify content, theatricality, and a more concrete and even obvious message, it can do so only because the form is meticulously crafted. Each element’s volume is subject to a plethora of precise adjustments so that alone or in tandem with other elements, the impact is powerful. Space and size: A stepping pattern is performed exuberantly, with loose-limbed strides propelling dancers through the space with a confident ease; now it’s marked nearly in place, just a hint of what was. Space and time: The glacial pace of a processional across the space sets off speedy, complex solos; protracted periods with little action provide room to digest the action – and challenge us to stay as alert as the dancers, ready to catch the next flurry of movement. Time: Time is stretched, with songs looped or slowed down nearly beyond recognition and compositional structures audaciously extended, matching the length of the audio tracks. Space, time, stillness, weight: From the beginning, the stage design draws us close to the dancers, underscoring our shared world – and the separation between performers and spectators breaks down towards the end of 2019 as the dancers climb into the risers. The volume of the movement is dialed down to total stillness when Hanoch Levin’s haunting text resounds through the space, each word delivered in an unhurried drone. In the absence of motion, these words carry more weight. There is time and space for them to sink in, and the unmoving mass of each dancer’s body lying corpse-like across the viewers’ laps amplifies the message.  

VII. Here? During the general rehearsal on December 2, a colleague turned to me and asked if I was familiar with the song to which the dancers were swaying and singing. It was, for growing up in a strong Jewish community in the U.S., “Hinei Ma Tov” was part of my repertoire from a young age. Likewise, I sang “LaKova Sheli” at Purim celebrations, and “BaShana HaBa’a” was a favorite at camp singalongs. I do, however, recognize the different relationship many Israelis have with these songs. And so I wondered: how would it be to watch 2019 with different eyes informed by a different upbringing in a different place? How do we as individual spectators, each with our own background, locate ourselves in relationship to the sights, the sounds, the content of a choreographic work that itself is so rooted in a specific place? Questions about viewership that swirled after seeing Venezuela flooded back to me, but with twists molded by the form and content of Naharin’s newest creation.   

Batsheva Dance Company 2019

VIII. Where? Although some of the Hebrew songs in 2019 were familiar to me, at other times I found myself wondering what language I was hearing. Were the slowed-down lyrics in Hebrew, Arabic, or another tongue? Does it even matter? Naharin offers a specific series of references, but there is universality beyond the specificity. This is the tale of our time in Israel, but it is also the tale of our time outside Israel. A flock of dancers weaving through the space, arms raised up, brings to my mind both prisoners of war and refugees, more a category and less a nationality; four women hanging from the wall of the set could be hanging from one of many walls erected around our globe. Rich with form and content, there is room for a layered reading of 2019 that does not require the viewer to be steeped in Israeli culture and society. The images resonate across context, across space, and across time. As 2019 comes to a close, as the second decade of the 2000s reaches its end, we live in a world that is rife with conflicts and challenges. As Naharin’s 2019 is born, as it begins its lifespan as a work of art and welcomes viewers to spend 75 minutes of their time in its space, it provides opportunities for reflection, on aesthetic and political grounds alike. 

IX. 2019: You will yet see, you will yet see, 
How good it will be,
Next year.”  
To a better 2020. Happy New Year.

Batsheva Dance Company 2019

Photos by Ascaf.

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Batsheva Dance Company: Ohad Naharin & Tabaimo’s “Furo”

Posted on 14 March 2012 by Deborah Friedes Galili


Video: Excerpts of Ohad Naharin & Tabaim’s Furo, performed by the Batsheva Dance Company.

Nearly four years ago, I saw Furo – a collaboration between choreographer Ohad Naharin and video artist Tabaimo – when it was performed at Tel Aviv’s port.  Now Furo is back at Batsheva Dance Company’s Studio Varda in the Suzanne Dellal Centre from March 15-26.

Furo fascinated me in 2008, spurring me to write two posts at the time: one after attending the press conference and one after watching the performance on the day of its Tel Aviv premiere.  Both of my reflections are below, and ticket information for the current run of Furo is at the end of the article. 

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Batsheva Dance Company in
Furo.  Photograph by Gadi Dagon.

The text below was originally published as “Moving Forward with Ohad Naharin’s ‘Furo'” on The Winger on May 14, 2008.

A question was asked in Hebrew, restated in English, and then translated into Japanese. This was part of the scene at yesterday’s press conference for Furo, a collaboration between Ohad Naharin and the Japanese video artist Tabaimo.

In the last two decades, Israeli choreographers – led by Naharin – have pushed the boundaries of their art form along with their foreign counterparts.  Furo continues this move forward.  Globalization, collaboration, installation, technology, and video art are some of the hot words right now, and every one of these terms can be used in a discussion about Furo.

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The View from Here

Posted on 11 March 2012 by Deborah Friedes Galili

George Staib on the banks of the Jordan River.

This is a guest post by George Staib.

It was late in the spring of 2011 when I found myself on the banks of the Jordan River, discussing dance with an Israeli friend of mine, with whom I had shared a stage in Atlanta, GA. The new environment, the reconnection, and the gentle vigor of the words flowed as effortlessly as the river itself. Marked with a bit of sadness, that moment encapsulated my Tel Aviv dance experience, which was coming to a close. It was my intention to be submerged in a dance community that shouted boldly and succinctly from across an ocean, which I did. I did this for five weeks, met open arms, and have been changed forever.

My fascination with Israeli modern dance crept up on me. It was a performance of Deca Dance by the New York based company, Cedar Lake, which drew my attention to Israel, namely to Ohad Naharin. Prior, my wife had seen Naharin’s Mamootot, and though I had no first-hand experience of the work, her words were vivid, and I sat transfixed listening to the account she had given of Batsheva’s performance in Brooklyn. With the wonders of YouTube, I found that the images that presented themselves on my screen were varied, distinct, chilling, and captivating. I fell into an abyss of curiosity, admiration, and overwhelming addiction to what I was seeing. Modern dance, to me, had been reinvented. Rather it returned to what I believe its original intention was: communication.

The people I encountered on a daily basis, either through Iris Erez’s classes, Gaga classes, or contact workshops seemed to be fundamentally driven by the need/desire/want to communicate.; to share an experience in all its open-ended glory, in all its universality. The artists’ experience became my experience, and within each class I found myself being asked to show what I was feeling, reveal what I was sensing, and to not be shy. If ever a phrase resonated with profound impact, it would be that one. Don’t be shy. It was my mantra in Tel Aviv and was affirmed with each new acquaintance and friend asking me to do the same. There was a liberation of the dancer I had tucked away, and a re-introduction to the self. All through movement; all through communication.

Countless articles have been written on the power of Gaga and while I found my sentiments echoed those of other enthusiasts, what was not as easy to discover was what Israelis thought of their own adaptations of modern dance. Many friends I made in Tel Aviv seemed genuinely shocked that I would choose Israel to focus my attention on dance. Many were awestruck that Israel was creating a frenzy in the United States, and all smiled politely with a sense of humility that is rare. I witnessed that there was no shyness on stage, no apologetic movement, no need to move away from movement. Movement was the vehicle, and while many dance-makers in the U.S. seem to use movement as a decoration for text, Israelis use movement to take the place of words that could never be as powerful as an honest gesture, a sincere dance.

Within the countless performances I took in while in Tel Aviv, from Batsheva, to Yasmeen Godder, to Yossi Berg and Oded Graf, to KCDC, to Iris Erez, and many, many others, I saw no need to qualify, no need to have all the answers and certainly no shyness. I marveled at the thoughtfulness of the work, the remarkable skill of the dancers (be they released, Gaga-ed, or other;) and the undeniable connection to the audience. The communications, the exchanges, were worth more than gold. I felt like part of the experience and at the same time, was a spectator. I loved not having all the answers and being invited to make my own answers to the mysterious questions being asked on stage. The open-ended communication and dancer-to-audience dialogue continued long after the curtain closed.

The landscape of dance in Israel is broad and rich and lives in a culture that must continuously endure threats and instability. Thankfully, beauty hasn’t suffered. The warmth of those offering their homes, the generosity of the teachers, the inclination towards communication, and the pretention-free, forward-thinking artists I encountered, never allowed complacency to enter their studios, their dances, their lives. I recognized that what some might perceive as forward momentum is actually a by-product of the way life is led in Israel. There is continuous celebration; there is reverence for the past. Tel Aviv moves forward by stating its presence, by boldly commanding an art form through the form. Dances in Israel really dance. They speak louder than words and rely upon movement to tell a story. Actors act, painters paint, and in Israel, choreographers choreograph, and dancers dance. They move with the impetus of sublime images, they create with an awareness of those who will watch, and they unknowingly made me feel like a citizen of a community that communicates.

George Staib’s Name Day. Photograph by Dustin Chambers.

George Staib, through the generosity of Emory University, spent five weeks in Tel Aviv studying Gaga and being an enthusiastic audience member at Suzanne Dellal. He is the artistic director of Staibdance and is a dance teacher at Emory University, in Atlanta, GA. He looks forward to a return visit to Tel Aviv in June, 2012.

You can see George’s blog, maintained while in Tel Aviv, at the following address: movingtowardshome.wordpress.com

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Batsheva Dance Company’s Mixed Bill: Yasmeen Godder and Sharon Eyal & Gai Bachar

Posted on 06 January 2012 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Batsheva Dance Company in Yasmeen Godder’s The Toxic Exotic Disappearance Act

On first thought, Batsheva Dance Company’s new mixed bill seems an unusual choice of programming.  House (titled “Ha’avoda shel hofesh” in Hebrew) by Sharon Eyal and Gai Bachar is a natural pick, since Eyal has served as the troupe’s house choreographer since 2005.  The first half of the evening, however, belongs to someone from decidedly outside of the Batsheva fold: Yasmeen Godder.  Godder is not a complete stranger to Batsheva, having created Green Fields on the Ensemble in 2000, but her The Toxic Exotic Disappearance Act is the first work by anyone other than Ohad Naharin or Eyal to be performed by Batsheva in several years. Beyond the novelty of a guest choreographer working with the company, the combination of these particular artists initially seems to be an odd coupling.  Were I to make a family tree of contemporary dance in Israel, Godder’s branch would be far away from that of Eyal and Bachar.  Indeed, aesthetically, these creators occupy nearly opposite ends on the art form’s spectrum.

Yet watching the performance at Suzanne Dellal on January 4, this pairing started to make sense.

For all their stylistic differences, Godder and the team of Eyal and Bachar do have one key trait in common: they are artists who are audacious and provocative, in the best senses of those words.  Rather than play it safe, these creators unabashedly delve into the realms of the twisted, the disturbing, and even the grotesque in their repertory.  Rarely have I heard anyone deliver a lukewarm review of either Godder’s or Eyal’s work; indeed, it’s practically impossible to not react strongly to their choreography.

Yasmeen Godder’s The Toxic Exotic Disappearance Act.  Photograph by Gadi Dagon.

Batsheva’s mixed bill of Godder’s The Toxic Exotic Disappearance Act and Eyal and Bachar’s House may not be an aesthetically cohesive evening. But it’s savvy programming, for each dance has the capacity to leave a significant impact on the audience – and together, these electrifying works outline the range of contemporary dance in Israel today.


Sharon Eyal and Gai Bachar’s
House. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Batsheva’s new program continues at Suzanne Dellal in Tel Aviv through January 7 and returns from January 18-20.  Additional performances are scheduled later in the season; for more details, please visit Batsheva’s website.

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Batsheva Dance Company 2011-2012: The Year Ahead

Posted on 23 November 2011 by Deborah Friedes Galili


Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s
Sadeh21.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Last week, Batsheva Dance Company unveiled its 2011-2012 season at a press conference in Studio Varda.  And what a season it will be!

On December 30, the troupe will premiere two new works, one by Sharon Eyal and Gai Bachar and the other by Yasmeen Godder.  At the end of March, the junior Batsheva Ensemble will debut another new work by Sharon Eyal and Gai Bachar along with a restaging of Ohad Naharin’s classic Tabula Rasa (1986), which has not been shown in Israel since 2004.  Tel Aviv audiences will also be treated to performances of Eyal’s Bill and Naharin’s Sadeh21, Hora, MAX, Shalosh, Kamuyot, Deca Dance, and Furo, created in collaboration with the Japanese video artist Tabaimo and last staged in Israel in 2008.  Both the main company and the ensemble will travel around Israel, appearing in other cities and throughout the periphery; the troupes will also journey abroad, with several performances in Europe in November and December and a North American tour in February and March.  By the time the season ends, the two companies will have given a combined total of well over two hundred performances.

The press conference kicked off with a peek at an installation that the main company will perform at the Fondation Beyeler, a museum in Basel, on November 23 and 24.  In the museum, the audience will sit around the space and can come and go as they please; in the press conference, we too sat around the perimeter of the space and remained riveted during the brief showing.  As company member Guy Shomroni DJ’ed, the rest of the dancers filtered in and out of the center, quoting snippets from across Naharin’s repertory.  Here and there duets formed spontaneously and unison took shape organically.  Phrases from different works created unusual juxtapositions, while occasionally more and more dancers gathered to build a section from a single work.

Although I was invited to this press conference as a dance writer, I attended it along with the other 29 dancers who are studying Ohad Naharin’s movement language in the inaugural year of the Gaga Teacher Training Program – and in the midst of my total immersion in Gaga, my viewing was undoubtedly colored by my recent experiences in the studio.  I couldn’t help but notice the Batsheva dancers slip in and out of phrases we have been learning in our repertory classes, like the quiet unison from Kamuyot (based on Mamootot) and a short, speedy solo from Sadeh21.

While a thrill surged through my body as I recognized these movements, I was even more fascinated by the dancers’ mastery of Naharin’s movement language.  Trained for years in Gaga, these dancers move fluently in Naharin’s idiom, and their knowledge of his recent repertory is encyclopedic.  Like writers cleverly engaging in wordplay, these dancers rummaged freely through Naharin’s vocabulary and deployed witty plays on movement.

I continued to mull over the Batsheva dancers’ relationship to Gaga as the press conference continued on to previews of the new work by Sharon Eyal and Gai Bachar as well as that of Yasmeen Godder.  Sharon Eyal, herself steeped in Gaga as a former member of Batsheva and as the company’s current house choreographer, has developed a unique voice that nevertheless is a cousin to Naharin’s language.  Having worked with Eyal on previous productions, the dancers moved in her creation as if speaking one of their native tongues.  And even though Yasmeen Godder’s language is further removed on the family tree of contemporary dance, the five Batsheva dancers in her new work adapted admirably to her vocabulary.  This mixed bill is one to look forward to, for it showcases the range of this company’s extraordinary dancers in works by some of this country’s most exciting choreographers.

 

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