Batsheva Ensemble Deca Dance

Choreography by Ohad Naharin
Batsheva Ensemble
Sadler’s Wells

Deca Dance—Batsheva Ensemble Credit: Chris Nash
Deca Dance—Batsheva Ensemble Credit: Chris Nash
Deca Dance—Batsheva Ensemble Credit: Chris Nash

Described by the San Francisco Chronicle as "acrobats of God" and said to "dance like demons" by the New York Times, Ohad Naharin and his dancers fuse the Manichean extremes in the elemental tribal abandon they bring to dance. The Batsheva Ensemble, average age twenty, has vital passion in plenty.

The youth wing of the Batsheva Dance Company, the Ensemble are touring and celebrating twenty years of Naharin’s choreography in Deca Dance, a medley of his works, which change as they go. Decadent it is not. Intense, febrile, religious in fervour, the dancers whip up the audience to an ecstatic standing ovation from a nonchalant start.

The warm up, the tease, are two male dancers, interchangeable in looks, Or Schraiber and Eduard Turull, who weave a lounge lizard spell to ‘Hooray for Hollywood’ style music, muzak for the eyes. Lights still up, the audience drifts in chatting, paying no attention.

The auditorium is slow to fill; security is sluggish, demonstrators outside, but inside the mood is homely, relaxed, friends meeting, eating, greeting. Finally, forty minutes of lulling solo rubber-bodied choreographed improvisation is suddenly invaded by the group—fifteen dancers ‘make it big’.

Hand jive, heavy rock, Hebrew invocation, jumping jacks flash, twitching St Vitus dancing vessels of music, they are dynamite. Defiant stares at the audience, fixed grins, mesmerizing gestures, they command attention. The music, an odd mix of popular, classical and rock, tells another story.

Seven women dance in a close group; five men, fierce warriors or monks, faces mud-smeared (in penance?) in long sand-coloured skirt-trousers, interact in homoerotic male bonding ritual, moths to the light.

Eleven in identikit sleek outfits line up at the front of the stage. One breaks out in a physical manifestation of a ‘speaking in tongues’ episode, but quietens and falls back into line, rejoins the collective, fists raised to the world. And so it goes.

A couple dances a courtly medieval duet—there’s an extraordinary lift by the neck—a palate cleanser before the big audience-grabbing numbers are brought out.

Naharin believes dance is in all of us, we need no excuse to do it. He calls it ‘a virus in his bones’, and wants to contaminate us all. “Dance is very popular in Israel… It’s for everybody. For us it’s like singing.”

And audience participation breaks down barriers: the Ensemble return in Hasidim black suits, grey vests and fedoras, and select people from the audience to dance with them, foils to their hyper dance, on the stage.

Dean Martin’s Sway makes it nice and easy, and so infectious—it’s a stage-managed party, effective, manipulative, inclusive. Hava Nagila preludes the final eye-socking number, Minus 16. Softened up, we fall for its energy and creed.

In a semi-circle of chairs, to Tractor’s Revenge’s Echad Mi Yodea’s powerful throbbing repetitive beat, a Hebrew incantation of thirteen things to know, fourteen dancers let it rip.

Emotional rending of breasts, spinning and leaping on chairs, arms flailing, hats thrown into the ring, shoes, jackets, trousers… a growing pile that shocks with its Holocaust reference. There’s a fine line between madness and sanity.

All the while one man, the survivor, the witness, sits, head in hands, and falls repeatedly in shame to the floor. And the audience jumps to its feet... Mission accomplished; we have been played.

Artistic director since 1990, Naharin’s Deca Dance is updated regularly, refreshed, new works added, an organic evolution. For fans of Hofesh Shechter, a Batsheva alumnus, a chip off the old block, the vocabulary will be recognizable. Emotional, essential, formidable.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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