Ohad Naharin , the artistic director and choreographer for Batsheva Dance Company of Israel, is, in a word, a genius. The dance he unleashes in “Three”, performed in San Francisco Performances engagement October 26, looks like the work of no one else. There is a theatrical intelligence in play, there is humor, powerful movement invention, and, always, an underlying sense of emotion. The ensemble is the primary medium, there is no ballet company star system in this company—it’s all about the group. And yet– each of the dancers within the ensemble is idiosyncratic. Naharin finds ways to allow each to express his/her individuality.
“Three” is a 70-minute piece without intermission with three sections. The dancers are dressed in colorful t-shirts shirts and cut-off pants. They stand, spread-out on the stage, as the piece opens, and just look outward. It’s easy to look for political content here, and it would be facile to say that this group represents Israel, in its constant struggle for existence. But the real Israel is a place where children grow-up, people fall in love, dancers dance, and politics, like religion is part of the subtext of life, not all of it. That’s what Naharin puts on stage. There is music by Bach, Brian Eno and the Beach Boys. This is Israel and the whole world.
The first part is a theme and variations to Glen Gould’s recording of the Goldberg Variations of Bach, but Naharin writes that the dance is actually an exploration “of the silence between the musical notes”. The initial solo, an athletic and crazy series of phrases presented by a single male dancer, is subsequently repeated and explored by other dancers and then expanded on. A female brings a calmness to the movements, while a different male has an even wilder, more muscular way of presenting it. Naharin’s brilliance is in his control of all this. When things look like they are getting overly wild, the stage full of dancers coming on and of in waves of quick-moving dance snippets, he stops, simplifies, and begins to build something different out of the same toolkit of initial movement, his theme.
“Humus”, the second section is for the women of the company and reminds one of Martha Graham’s early work for ensemble (Naharin danced with Graham and her company at the beginning of his career), however Graham always placed herself in some relation to her chorus of women. For Naharin, the chorus itself, is of interest. The movements included hip circles, marching and yoga, but all of it organically linked to the mood set-up by Eno’s soft, electronic musical ocean.
“Secus”, the last section was wilder, louder, brighter. The dancers, in lines and separately, offered movement that grew riskier and more athletic. A central duet for two men offered the most emotional content of the evening, as their relationship seemed clearly love-centered, and the steps were cheerfully derivative of ballroom dance. This is a young group. These dancers (not all Israelis) look right out at you. Naharin offers an unflinching opportunity to celebrate life in all its oddness, power, and possibility.