Review: Sadeh21

Batsheva Dance Company
Adelaide Festival Theatre, Wednesday, March 5

Batsheva Dance Company Festival Theatre, Wednesday, March 5

The dancers of Batsheva, Israel’s premier dance company, are extraordinary, even freakish, performers in their capacity for extreme movement, their ability to snap from fast to slow motion in a nanosecond, their absolute physical control. ‘Sadeh’ means ‘field’, as in field of study, so, unsurprisingly, company director and choreographer Ohad Naharin begins by giving his 18 dancers a solo each, on an empty stage – the sadeh’s numbers are briefly projected on the of the set’s back wall, which rise about six metres from the floor, with three entrances on each side. Slow stretches suddenly change to rapid twists or arm extensions, heads jerk, torsos bend, then a simple walk off. Sadeh 2 builds, with couples, one with the woman draped over the man’s shoulder as he walks slowly through the others, dancing. In 4, a brief struggle is quelled, and couples later turn to face each other, intently gazing into each other’s eyes. Tension is relieved in 5, with the women, dressed in colourful shorts and tops, in a chorus line, dancing to a jazzy beat, a soloist in red bathers at one point standing on her head; the men, meantime, in strapless black, fullskirted dresses, whirl and even cartwheel across the stage, one of the lying down in front the soloist who apparently tries to resuscitate him. It all goes on too long, losing the humour, and ending with the women on the floor, doing unison pelvic thrusts. And it’s something of a relief, as well as a sly joke, when after Sadeh 6, from 7 to 18 are condensed, or even omitted. The movement lexicon appears, after an hour, oddly enough limited, though there is clever use of irony when the men form themselves in a chorus line, as the sexy women had done earlier. Now, one of the women enters upstage right, lies prone, and rapidly moves her legs, feet pattering on the floor; and she keeps this up throughout the men’s routine, which develops from the light-hearted to the sinister, as they turn their music hall kicks into military marching, breaking their line to form and reform, with aggressive shouts – all in strict time and rhythm of course. They leave, the woman raises herself and dances as a child’s screaming is heard, continuing when the stage is empty and darkens. A man’s head appears above the wall. The screaming stops, he stands up, then, shockingly, falls backwards into the void. Others begin to appear, turn and fall, or leap, or dive, off. The credits begin to roll, projected onto the wall as they continue jumping. The auditorium lights come on. There is no curtain call. Sade21 is a showcase for Gaga, the movement method developed by Naharin over many years, leading to body awareness, and, he says, dance beyond mere physicality. The first part of the work could be a considered simply as a demonstration of this technique. It then develops some intellectual depth – in one sequence, for instance, a man downstage left contorting himself in seeming anguish, while a group of three link hands and move gently, elegantly in a round, to be gradually joined by others, calm and reflective. And what of the man who stands centre front uttering phrases in an unknown language, working up to a giggle. Is he an idiot, a wise idiot, a savant? Or, as was suggested to me, a deaf man trying to speak? Whatever the case, he is pushed to one side by one of the women. And the final section – a political statement? The child screaming would imply that. But some of the leaps of that wall seem fun; two of the men clasped their knees as if doing duck dive bombs in the pool. So, some of the fields are humorous, some are provocative, some become almost boring in their repetitiveness, some sections simply wear out their welcome. But the dancers excel. Rating: ***1/2 Sadeh21 continues at the Festival Theatre until Saturday, March 8  

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