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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 25 MARCH 2016 — For the Batsheva Dance Company’s first guest appearance at the Palais Garnier, artistic director and choreographer, Ohad Naharin presented his three part work, Three, created in 2005. The troupe, the most well-known modern dance ensemble in Israel which was founded by Martha Graham in Tel Aviv in 1964 and sponsored at the time by the Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, hence its name, was in fine form, performing Naharin’s punishing choreography with boundless energy and enthusiasm. The seventeen dancers, half of them Israeli-born, the others of differing nationalities, threw themselves into the cleverly constructed work.

Without scenery, (excepted a grey backcloth), without costumes, (except cropped tight-fitting jeans and coloured T shirts) and without an orchestra (merely a soundtrack which began shortly after the start of the work), the piece or pieces told no story and was not abstract in the accepted sense as movement itself was the main subject. Three has no beginning, middle or end unless one considers the evolution of the music which began with the classical purity of Bach, to the electronics inherent in the compositions of Chari Chari and Kid 606, and  passed through a score by the British composer, Brian Eno, during the central part of the piece.

Batsheva Dance Company
Photo:  Laurent Philippe

The first part of the work, which began with three solos for the men, was set to Bach’s Goldberg Variations and entitled Bellus. It demonstrated Naharin’s distinct, varied and highly physical style and led to Humus, set around Brian Eno’s atmospheric composition, Neroli, which was interpreted by a pack of 9 women moving for the most part in unison as they stomped around the stage. Secus, which completed the programme, turned to a more experimental score from a variety of sources and accompanied the dancers who exploded on stage in a choreography which was by turns fluid, ungainly, or nonsensical, obliging the women at one moment to turn around and bare their bottoms, always in time to the score, and for the men to simper forward, lowering their pants to display their private parts. The dancers, in three distinct groups, gave the audience plenty to look at and while there was strength, speed and a certain musicality, of graceful elegance there was none.

The dancers slumped down or crashed brutally onto the floor and then bounced straight upright again, their legs extended before dropping back to a crouching position, all seemingly within a fraction of a second. Lurching backwards, their extreme movements merged with crashing sounds from the score and temporary blackouts from the lighting, but then in the midst of chaos came an unexpected, inventive, and all too short pas de deux, or rather duo between two young men who moved rhythmically to a momentarily catchy soundtrack. The dancers’ movements, although seemingly uncoordinated, were juxtaposed with a rigorous choreographic structure which nevertheless necessitated extreme resilience.

Since 2000, Ohad Naharin’s work has been increasingly grounded in a unique movement language called Gaga which at first appears to be pure improvisation, but which is actually very precise. It is a method which encourages greater self-awareness regarding the body and its limits. Each member of the troupe is encouraged to develop his or her own spontaneity and it is this unique quality which has given the company its own identity. The 63-year-old choreographer, who began to study dance at the relatively late age of 22, leaving Tel Aviv to work with Martha Graham in New York, has also expressed his interest in the boundaries existing between what is pure and what has been perverted; between what is expected and what actually happens. He enjoys surprising, and one can either like his work, several pieces being in the repertoires of companies around the world, or reject it.

However, the main objection from spectators, many of whom cheered the company, was the brevity of the hour-long programme. With the high security, many had queued for over 40 minutes to gain access to the auditorium of the Palais Garnier, leaving no time to admire the magnificent palace itself, a place to see and be seen in. Whilst there was barely time to admire Chagall’s famous ceiling, commissioned in 1964, there was little opportunity to appreciate neither the main staircase with its 33 different kinds of marble, nor the sublime Avant Foyer with its gorgeously coloured mosaic ceiling.

There was no interval, so spectators were unable to stroll through the Salon de la Lune and the Salon du Soleil leading on to the grandiose Main Foyer, almost as majestic as the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, thus depriving them of part of the joy of an evening in France’s Palace of Dance.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.

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