Review: Batsheva Dance Company in Three at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 20 & 21 Oct 08
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Thursday 23 October 2008

Batsheva Dance Company 'Three' 20-21 Oct, Sadler's Wells

The programme for this performance notes that Batsheva, Israel’s leading dance company, has made three previous visits to London to the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of Dance Umbrella in 1993 and twice to the Barbican BITE season in 2001 and 2004. So, this was the company’s second contribution to Dance Umbrella and its first performance at Sadler’s Wells (following close behind the Mariinsky Ballet’s debut on the same stage, last week). Unfortunately, the programme is less informative about the seventeen dancers on show, giving no clues to enable individual identification; a not unreasonable expectation on the part of the programme buyer.

*Three* merged that number of sections into one relatively seamless performance, without interval, that lasted just beyond an hour. The three sections (entitled Bellus, Humus and Secus) are integrated through the same set design and costumes (evidently the remains of a Benetton catalogue shoot); and linked by a vaguely comical introduction by a silent male performer (but I can’t tell you who) holding an old-style TV screening his own face, which shakily – with a degree of deliberately humorous condescension – introduces the 2nd and 3rd parts.

Ohad Naharin’s choreography for the three sections was eclectic; Bellus brought together five mixed pairs; Humus was just for the ensemble’s nine girls, performing 13 brief interlinked sections; with Secus being the longest part (around 35 minutes) and performed by the whole troupe. It concluded with three human production lines, churning out a simultaneous quickfire sequential rotation of single poses, movements or flesh-baring, mostly with 3 or 4 repetitions before being replaced by the next sequence. The movement language developed by Naharin, called (perhaps more accurately, nick-named) *Gaga, has an unusual, impulsive quality, occasionally reminiscent of the layered multi-dimensional movement of the software-generated choreography in *Merce Cunningham’s later work. The resemblance is, however, superficial and fleeting.

Each of the three parts incorporated moments of creative excellence; two highlights of which were the intense polarity of the central duet in Bellus, the dancers seemingly magnetised, the movement of one repelling the other into a polarised response; and, at the start of Secus, the sudden explosion of highly individualised movement across a stage-full of dancers, all separate but also wholly integrated in a strange contradiction of anarchy and control. The memorable moments, however, occupied too little of the whole, much of which was distinctly underwhelming, especially in a generally lacklustre middle section.

All in all, I felt that this was a performance that paled in significance compared to some of the thrilling contemporary dance we have seen in London, this October (notably Cunningham at the Barbican; Petronio on the South Bank). That said, Batsheva’s dancers certainly impressed with the range of their movement and the generic ability to appear free-flowing and disciplined at the same time; one or two were especially noteworthy. It’s a pity I can’t name them!

Apparently it’s Batsheva company policy not to credit the dancers in programmes. – Ed.

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