Green Screen Laboratory: Batsheva Performs “Hora” at BAM

Batsheva Dance Company performs "Hora"

Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin's "Hora." Photograph by Gadi Dagon

This week, it seemed like everyone in the dance world was talking about Batsheva Dance Company, who brought director Ohad Naharin’s “Hora” to BAM from Wednesday through Saturday. I had the pleasure of seeing the company on Thursday night from the orchestra level instead of my usual perch up in the balcony (thanks Free Ticket Thursdays!). As the lights went up, this proximity revealed the faces of eleven seated dancers staring out at us from a long bench at the back of the stage. Dressed in various black practice clothes, these bodies were the only deviations from the monochromatic green background that enclosed the dancers in a three-sided box. The color of this almost-room suggested the “green screens” against which action is recorded before being placed in some digitally enhanced context. This lent a laboratory-like atmosphere to the scene, an effect which was heightened by the score—a strange and seemingly random grouping of electronically altered pieces.

As the dancers rose, they advanced toward us in a horizontal line, walking into the shadows with carefully turned out steps and finishing in fifth position, one arm raised to the side, hand angled down at the wrist. This balletic pose would recur as a resting place, a moment of centered-ness amidst the obsessively asymmetrical choreography.

The dancers, who never left the stage for the entirety of the piece, were captivating in their ability make dramatic and seemingly instantaneous changes in level (i.e. from standing to the ground) and in movement quality. I was particularly drawn to Iyar Elezra by her sensuous movement quality and expressive face.

Familiar musical selections, including the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, and “Ride of the Valkryies,” drew laughs from the audience but also elicited some of the piece’s most effective sections. These momentary allowances that things might not be quite as serious as they seemed allowed the audience to find a way into the piece, a crack in that green box through which we might sneak in. These sections also often featured the ensemble dancing together or in pairs, groupings which effectively magnified the shapes of Naharin’s choreography.

By contrast, during an earlier section performed in silence, the dancers one by one began to explore movement in individual spaces. It was here that the piece was least effective, as there was no connecting thread, and the eye bounced around from dancer to dancer without finding something to focus on. One of the refreshing aspects of “Hora” was its lack of reliance on partnering. While dancers often danced together, other than in the final section, there were no lifts or manipulation, only bodies moving in space, sometimes affecting the orbit of other bodies, sometimes indifferent to them.