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Batsheva Dance Company: The Evolution of Ohad Naharin’s “Sadeh21”

Posted on 14 April 2011 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Photo: Ohad Naharin’s Sadeh21. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Watching Batsheva Dance Company in an open rehearsal of Ohad Naharin’s latest creation, I was keenly aware that evolution is at play.  Sadeh21 – literally Field21 – is roughly 6 weeks into its genesis, and it is scheduled to premiere at the Sherover Theatre as part of the Israel Festival in Jerusalem on May 25, 2011.  Dressed informally in their own clothes, the troupe’s twenty members showed a sizable segment of the work to a crowd of journalists in Studio Varda on April 13.

During a few sections, Naharin called out instructions to the dancers, highlighting the element of change that is part and parcel of the creative process. And indeed, in the six weeks between now and its premiere, Sadeh21 will no doubt undergo many changes. What we writers will see in May will bear a resemblance to its forerunner, but it will look decidedly different. Onstage, there will be choreographic sections that we have not yet viewed and alterations to what we did watch – additions, subtractions, refinements. Naharin noted that he and the cast have paid special attention to the interpretation of the work, which will certainly deepen with time. And in the theater, Sadeh21’s full staging will be revealed, including lighting by Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi) and costumes by Ariel Cohen.

Photo: Ohad Naharin’s Sadeh21. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Yet even at this early point of its development, Sadeh21 is rich with layers.  The composition juxtaposes solos and duets with larger ensembles, clean lines and formations with an organic chaos that, when featuring all twenty dancers, brings to mind the image of children gleefully tearing across a playground.  Sometimes a particular structural motif surfaces, the clarity of form enhancing the strength of a section as it unfolds.  And throughout, the movement captivates and surprises.  Bodies extend to their furthest points and then contract, speedily changing shape with seemingly no preparation and referencing motions both familiar and novel.  These dancers may have the same flesh and bone makeup as the rest of us, but at times they appear to be pure liquid, poured into constantly shifting molds.

Naharin’s movement language, Gaga, has been used as a toolbox throughout the construction of Sadeh21, and traces of the ideas explored in classes are visible to viewers who have taken Gaga.  Several women slink into their own gentle grooves before periodically convening to start a small gesture in unison – clapping, tracing a circle in the air with one finger, making a fist and punching, pushing the pelvis upwards from a crablike crouch.  Keeping the same tempo, the dancers gradually increase the size of the movement until it is as big as possible, enlisting more and more of their bodies until every part is contributing to the effort.  While the movement can be silly, it is sophisticated, imbued with pleasure in the discovery of new options and laced with humor.  Both a woman pattering offstage on all fours with her tail in the air and a man hopping across the space with one leg tucked up flamingo-style bring a smile to my face; a woman rhythmically lifting her hips in a long and winding march endears herself to me.

It’s not just the clever, sometimes lighthearted physicality that stirs my feelings in this version of Sadeh21.  The interactions between the dancers – from simple looks to tender clasps of hands to more intricately designed contact – resonate with a range of emotions.  And when a man tilts his face up, assumes an optimistic expression and high-pitched tone, and verbalizes sweetly in an invented language, I can’t understand what he is saying.  But I am nevertheless drawn to him, and I find myself responding with laughter, affection, and a touch of concern as he is forcibly removed to the side of the stage.

Photo: Ohad Naharin’s
Sadeh21. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Somehow, the emotional power of the dance seems closer to the surface in Sadeh21, more readily available and potent than in some of Naharin’s recent creations such as MAX (2007) and Hora (2009).  From this viewing, it seems that the work may share the epic tone and theatrical prowess that enthralled audiences in Naharin’s earlier productions for the Israel Festival, including Kyr (1990) and Z/na (1995).  It may well be that in Sadeh21, Naharin has gathered the fruits of his artistic research over his twenty-one years at the helm of Batsheva – the more overtly dramatic sensibility that characterized his large-scale works from the 1990s and the cornucopia of physical possibilities gleaned through Gaga – and married them together.   Sadeh21’s own evolution will continue in the womb of the studio during the next six weeks, and knowing Naharin’s ongoing engagement with his creations, the work will certainly change further as it lives in performance.  I for one am interested in seeing the dance in its next developmental stages – and in contemplating its place in Naharin’s artistic evolution.

Performance Information

Batsheva Dance Company will premiere Ohad Naharin’s Sadeh21 during the Israel Festival at Jerusalem’s Sherover Theatre on May 25-27, 2011.  Additional performances include May 31-June 4 (Herzliya Performing Arts Centre), June 5 (Modi’in Performing Arts Centre), June 9-11 (Suzanne Dellal Centre), and June 13 (Carmiel Performing Arts Centre).

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