Last Work (2015) West Coast Premiere

Mr. Gaga comes to San Francisco

Written by:
David e. Moreno
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Last Work (2015)
Batsheva Dance Company
By Ohad Naharin

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
February 15-17
Produced by S.F. Performances

A girl in a blue silk dress is running. Her long red hair rolls down her shoulders. She runs alone. The only sound that fills an empty grey stage is her feet stomping and the swooshing sound of an invisible treadmill. A man appears through one of the many grey panels that line the stage. He begins to undulate the right side of his body. His body seems to move as two separate halves with the undulating right side almost wrapping around his left. His fluid movement is repetitive, seemingly spontaneous and contrary to the mechanical jogger upstage. Another woman appears and gyrates like a creature. The man disappears. A series of solos happen. Casually, the full company replaces the soloists. 18 dancers congregate like a herd, all clad in dusty brown, grey and eggplant shorts and t-shirts. They move as one formation, an organism that turns in on itself becoming a tableau, a sculpture of hands interlacing one dancer like a gate of forks. They spread and wade across the stage, mini solos and duets bubble up, as do questions about where this piece is going. How and when will the girl in the blue dress stop running, will she stop? They dance yielding poetically to the floor as a Hebrew lullaby fills the space.

A girl in a blue silk dress keeps running. She is in no hurry. She is a metronome, a heartbeat. She is the daughter of time. Dancers move about as if they cannot see her, as if she doesn’t exist; yet should she stop, their reality would clearly end. They strip off their clothes upstage, their naked backside and dance belts face the audience. Will they dance naked? No. The men put on black clerical robes, the women mostly white cotton shorts and t-shirts (Eri Nakamura, costumes.) The men dance in clusters as the laws of mankind, the ordained among the masses, the rulers of religions. A duet of a man dressed not in robes but in the same white garments of his female partner quivers and shakes into a climactic frenzy. Are they making love through these rattling gyrations that seem to boil over before they embrace? Another woman thrust her pelvis from the floor facing a priest in his black cassock, her rippling unabashed spine is trying to seduce him or confess to him her sexual needs. One at a time the men lose their robes, all become dressed in white. One by one dancers cover their faces in gauze hoods that veil their faces like runway models for Alexander McQueen–grotesquely beautiful and menacing. Grishcha Lictenberger’s original score is the invisible electronic waters that dancers wade through. His soundscape exists in a realm that floats outside the restrictions of time. The light that they contort through is also heavenly; a matt finish pours across the stage. Avi Yona Bueno’s lighting design seems to create the movement of light throughout the course of a day.

A girl (Bobbi Jene Smith) in a blue silk dress is running for 70-minutes. Her long wet red hair sticks to her shoulders. She is the sunrise and sunset, the swiftly passing of days and lives, the beginning, the middle, and this ending—an ending that turns like a riot into a revolution. Techno music blasts, dancers turning into a frenzied rave. A man waves a white flag, another tapes a microphone stand with packing tape, another whirls a noisemaker. A gun full of confetti explodes. A woman almost drops to her knees but before they touch the floor she backbends till her head almost reaches the floor behind her. She (Zina Zincheko) repeats this over and over defying gravity. The man with tape starts to weave his sticky binding ribbon from one dancer to the next until the entire stage is caught in his universal web. The lights go out with the runner’s last step—the dance ends.

“Last Work” is powerful yet challenging to behold. For all of its exquisite physicality, breathtaking feats of movement and haunting beauty it is troublesomely lacking some inexplicable ingredient—perhaps by design, maybe by omission. The girl in a blue silk dress isn’t ultimately going anywhere, as so many other Ohad Naharin’s dances have achieved. She runs existentially, leaving in her sweaty trail the messy questions that have always haunted humanity. She stumbles just short of the finish line, this side of a masterpiece. Like the title of additional music used in this performance by Sagat suggests, “Few Mysteries Solved in a Year of Contact.”

David E. Moreno

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