The pre-curtain audience at the Yerba Buena Center For The Arts was especially boisterous Thursday evening. This was in part because the legendary Israeli dance company, Batsheva, had returned to San Francisco for its fourth season, and because this performance was part of the company’s 50th Anniversary Jubilee Tour. The anticipation was palpable until it was jarringly dampened by a loud crash originating from the minimal stage. When a stunned audience turned their attention the stage they realized that the crash wasn’t an accident as it sounded, but the first dramatic note of and elaborate soundtrack designed by Maxim Waratt–and the beginning of an unforgettable journey through “Sadeh21.”
Sadeh–“field” in Hebrew–has 21 segments or overlays that seamlessly flow one in to the next, beginning with solo vignettes by most of the company. In Sadeh 1 dancers casually walked on, produced spellbinding contortions and breathtaking movement before casually walking off. From these first gesticulations they instantly began establishing the choreographic signature of dance genius, Ohad Naharin. Naharin’s style of innovative movement–which he calls, “Gaga,” emphasizing “sensation and movement”–seems to barrow from everything, yet is totally original. Activity is surrounded by inactivity; confidant holds of time and space take place without gesture or movement and are charged with emotion. Background movement is as intricate and significant as foreground, and is often volatile as it is also spacious and steady. The choreography is both sensual and confrontational, and familiar yet, like something never seen before. And, it can be as playful as it is sophisticated.
Yet, these extraordinary gestures and contortions that the company so aptly performs aren’t dependent on the double-jointed tricks associated with “Cirque du Soleil,” and instead, evolve out of an organic depth, intelligence, and unique vision. Chaotic movement melds easily into slow motion, or formations of circles, chorus lines and out again into random chaos. There is often a drifting quality to the dance, which floats in an out like the airy Brian Eno music heard in the soundtrack. Humor is subtle and smart as is, the set, lighting (Avi Yanna Bueno), and costume design (Ariel Cohen) which are as clean and simple as Calvin Klein fashions.
Each Sadeh is a complete offering in and of itself. Yet, the ones that will most likely be remembered are number five, when the girl chorus has a bit of a Tom Tom Club– pseudo cabaret-like–crawl of seduction across the down stage. To their more saturated-in-color costumes and sinewy moves, the male dancers suddenly appear like a murder of crows, running wildly one at a time upstage in black flowing dresses, and in complete juxtaposition to the women. And most memorable is the last Sadeh, 21, when dancers one by one appear on top of the wall that has framed the stage, there they stand like all of humanity on the horizon, turn their backs slowly to the audience and fling themselves off the wall one at a time into the unseen. Like bodies falling out of the World Trade Center as it burns behind them, they leap into darkness behind the set, reemerge and jump as if in slow motion again and again. The image is profound, the leaps both daring and incredibly humble. It is this humanity and humility that permeates all of ““Sadeh21” which makes it truly a dance masterpiece.