>anaphaza by batsheva dance company

>reviewed by ma shaoling

>date:26 oct 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: the esplanade, theatre
>rating: ***1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


During the post-performance talk after Batsheva Dance Company's opening night performance at the Esplanade on Saturday, someone queried artistic director Ohad Naharin on the concept behind his choreography. Naharin stretched his legs, smiled, and demanded in return an explanation of the word "concept". To Naharin, who began formal dance training only at the age of 22, the word is useful for people who write about dance; for him as a practitioner and choreographer, movements in ANAPHAZA were created simply because "they fit right". The 39-year old company from Israel danced with a kind of raw and intense energy that could not be possibly borne out of a single 'concept'. Although based in Tel-Aviv, Naharin assembled a group of talented dancers coming from all over the world. Fusing traditional Hebrew songs and hypnotic percussions with video images and rock music, the dancers were sometimes playful and at others times subdued.

A drum set situated at the upper echelon of the stage forms the only backdrop throughout the performance. The show opened with a firework, illuminating 22 figures clad in identical hats and suits, seated in an open semi-circle around the stage. After a series of repeated movements, the dancers discarded their hats and suits, revealing military fatigues and blackened torsos. Throughout the rest of ANAPHAZA, they switched to and fro between these two costume modes. Yet this was done more out of spontaneity than the need to convey a particular message. Unlike some contemporary dance companies, which often use different costumes to represent different personas, ANAPHAZA steers away from the clichéd tension between nature and urbanity. Rather, it was more of a haphazard costume party. Occasionally, dancers add on baggy trousers, red tutu skirts or even party hats.

>>'even one who had to review the performance learnt that it was more important to put away her pen and paper and tap to the beat'

Technique-wise, Naharin's choreography displayed a generous vocabulary. The dancers were equally controlled in various styles ranging from classical ballet positions in fifth, to definitely modernist torso contractions, Javanese concentrations in the lower body, and even some salsa and breakdancing. Formations were kept simple during the ensemble pieces and as a result audiences were able to pay more attention to the overall rhythm. Transitions from one section to another did not follow any pattern or motif, and this was rather original. As clowns in sequined dresses crooned love songs and executed headstands, even one who had to review the performance learnt that it was more important to put away her pen and paper and tap to the beat.

Audiences were definitely not left out during the 74-minute performance. At one point, we were asked to stand and only allowed to sit if we agreed with a list of questions read out by a clown. A member of the audience, who was celebrating his birthday on that day, was asked on stage for a somewhat cynical balloon party. In a later section, audience members were invited on stage to join the company in a waltz. I happened to be part of the chosen, clumsy few. Judging from the roars of laughter, it was certainly a successful attempt to let the audience this time make a fool of themselves. I think those of us on stage actually discovered that playing a fool is so much more fun than watching one.

Because sounds played such a significant role in ANAPHAZA, major portions of the dance became a visual spectacle of music making. Almost caricaturing popular rock bands, sections of the dance would be interposed with guitarists in outrageous dress. At other times, dancers would march across the stage hitting empty plastic water containers, Stomp-like. However, it is regrettable that such antics dragged on for too long and were unable to provoke, instead becoming boring. If it were intended to entertain, one wonders why we needed to sit for 5 minutes watching lyrics from a song being flashed out at snail's pace.

All in all, ANAPHAZA was able to combine somberness with frivolity. The dancers, always relentless in their executions, seemed equally dedicated never to take themselves too seriously. This professionalism in dance as a theatrical art form makes the Batsheva Dance Company a joy to watch.