Out There Amidst Turmoil

Out There Amidst Turmoil

Tel Aviv’s Ohad Naharin finds home at New York State Theater

A renowned choreographer and the artistic director of Batsheva Dance Company, based in Tel Aviv, Ohad Naharin masters abstract elements—colors, patterns, and moving figures. In the New York premiere of his “Telophaza,” July 20 at the New York State Theater as part of the Lincoln Center Festival, pure dance is imbued with humor, feelings of love, pride, and togetherness. Its structure is defined by large groups moving in unison—including the near-capacity (2,713) audience.

Naharin’s “Anaphaza,” a 2003 Festival offering, expressed polarity—us/them, dark/light. An audience member was selected and a group of us stepped up on stage to dance in celebration of his birthday. In Naharin’s recent acclaimed “Mamootot” dancers embraced audience members sitting in a circle around them.

“Telophaza”—telophase is the final stage of cell division in which daughter cells group forming new nuclei—solves the problem of how to involve the audience, humbly with solidarity. After standing and dancing near the end, we stood again for an ovation and many curtain calls. But we were a solid force from the start—there to see Batsheva’s fine artistry. In the face of deadly escalation of war in the Middle East, the show went on with a vengeance when the dancers arrived with steadfast pride. Perhaps the State Theater felt like a home away from home. All prized the art of “Telophaza”, its magnanimity and beauty, its utopian promise experienced not as a dream but in the flesh.

The large cast of 40 included 18 junior ensemble members who functioned like a corps de ballet. Their numbers created rhythm and patterns moving under brilliant light. In white bathing attire, they pair as in a water ballet, or march in regiments wearing solid bright or natural-colored unitards. Duets and unison groups engage in very wide, stretched athletic dancing peppered with robotic phrases. Moving across the stage, the groups replaced each other like tribes, creating a sense of history, change, and time. With emboldened but cautious treading, they arrive at kaleidoscopic tableaux of comprehensible, ordered, beautiful configurations.

Four videocams on posts mark a central area where solos, based in Naharin’s own ‘gaga’ technique, are performed to Jeff Beck’s electric guitar. Live images from each angle are projected larger than life on four screens along the back wall. The fascinating figures in glittery costumes rivet us while the multi-dimensional images elucidate their dances. The last solo has a markedly different cramped feeling.

Rachael Osborne’s clenching toes and arching feet are further isolated when enlarged on screen. In intimate video portraits the dancers heads are magnified, humanizing the dance. Form follows function in this modernist aesthetic and the technology takes a back seat. In “Kammer/Kammer,” William Forsythe uses his screens to partition and titillate with partial information. Naharin’s simple-looking set-up also purports to “cause the spectator to have doubts as to where to direct his attention.” The virtual images in “Telophaza,” however, fortify the information we get from the live performance. But during a love scene and nudity, cinematic strobe lighting obscures and tramples the Eden. Why the strobe? And didn’t we used to warn audiences?

Osborne guides us through a relaxation exercise, telling us to place a hand on our stomach and think about whom we miss. Through this demo she has us thinking non-verbally, with movement, like the dancers do. A soothing voice tells us to make flowing circular motions with our hands and then imagine that our chair is shaking. Like dancing in a war zone?

Telophaza is a panacea to violence—throwing life in its face. Since Naharin has described himself as an ambassador, we can understand this as an Israeli survival strategy.

By now the Hebrew word shalom is universally understood as hello, peace, or goodbye—and this greeting was exchanged noticeably in the crowded theater lobby.