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Craftwork

The soul desires to dwell with the body because without the members of the body it can neither act nor feel.”

–Leonardo da Vinci

Performance

Batsheva Dance Company: “Last Work”

Place

State Theatre, Arts Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, October 16 & 17, 2015

Words

Gracia Haby

Batsheva Dance Company in “Last Work.” Photograph by Gadi Dagon

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Motion builds slowly. In the form of a wave that ripples through the body. Omri Drumlevich moves as if possessed, eyes fixed on a point somewhere behind me. With his left arm outstretched in counter balance and his supporting leg bent, the right side of his body gives over to an undulation of controlled movement. His right hand rests upon his bent suspended right leg, his forearm in direct line with his shin, as if fusing two parts of the body previously independent. The hand now fixed on the knee, the familiar line of the body altered, through Drumlevich’s body courses an inward sensation made outwardly visible. As his stirring builds, the pace quickens, and I am mesmerised. Without theatrics and pomp, he appears to have altered the range of movement in the ball and socket workings of his knee joint.

Motion is steady. In the form of a lone dancer on a treadmill, tirelessly running. Dressed in bright blue, the runner remains a constant, adjusting how I perceive time and space. The pace never alters, the direction never changes, the destination, never reached. The runner remains steadfast as the dancers on the stage before and around explore an impossible range of motions. The juxtaposition between the runner’s enduring pattern and the uncertainty of the dancers, itself a beautiful conversation. Both represent unwavering determination, but both runner and dancers reach it differently. The message I read in Ohad Naharin’s “Last Work” (2015): more things unite us than divide us.

Motion is frenetic. In the form of wild energy unleashed, unmasked, unrobed. It pulsates and shakes to the relentless 4/4 beat of Hysteric’s “Club Life.” The driving sound of Baltimore rapper, Sagat’s aptly named “Few Mysteries Solved in a Year of Contact” and the accompanying action onstage above all reveal to me how hard it is to remain true to your own course as those around you do otherwise. As Oscar Ramos, in low runners’ crouch, moves his head forward and back, forward and back, as if ‘eating sound,’ Zina (Natalya) Zinchenko thrusts her hips side to side as she whips her right hand in-out, in-out, in-out before her face. In a tight knot on the stage, each dancer repeats their own looped, instinctual movement and a machine is made of varying parts: all linked, all different. Converting movement into heat and energy, an engine of dancers appears, with Maayan Sheinfeld, a spark plug, and no shortage of dancers vying for the role of crankshaft, connecting rod, and piston. For though I’m likening this engine to a machine, it is completely animal. Primal impulses, unmistakably, front and centre, an echo of Nijinsky’s erotic Faun.

Motion is carefully measured. In the form of the pas de deux performed by Hsin-Yi Hsiang and Adi Zlatin. Moving as if one body, side by side, the cruelty of this metered tenderness comes from the fact that I cannot truly look at both their expressions at the one time. I leap from face to face, limb to limb, like some frenzied bee in search of nectar, trying to take it all in, again noting more similarities than differences. And while I cannot understand the words of the four Romanian lullabies that feature alongside the likes of Luminox’s high-key tinkling “Tantrum,” I understand their universal meaning, or rather, I feel their meaning. As Naharin explains, lullabies are “sung by horrible parents and wonderful parents, too.” And it is this expression of “joy and pain and sadness [living] in the same space; [that] don’t contradict each other”[note]Ohad Naharin quoted by Anna Della Subin, “Going Gaga of Ohad Naharin,” New York Times Style Magazine, September 19, 2015 [/note] that “Last Work” drives home for me.

Though we don’t remain in the nursery for long, as William Barry, clad in yellow shorts, relentlessly wields a Grogger, a Purim noisemaker, and drowns out the gun-polishing suggestive actions of his fellow dancer, the Haman villain to Purim’s story, perhaps.[note]Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf, “Grogger: The Purim Noisemaker,” excerpt from The One Hour Purim Primer: Everything a Family Needs to Understand, Celebrate and Enjoy Purim (Leviathan Press, 1995) [/note]

With momentum causing the board to clack against the gearwheel, Barry has become an instrument. On the heels of the joyous “Decadance” (one-night-only at Melbourne Festival), fresh from its Tel Aviv premiere, “Last Work” challenges me to work. It demands the audience work at keeping pace. It demands and deserves engagement.

In the second row, I feel in the midst of the rapidly shifting convulsions of the eighteen dancers. Bathed in the bright lights, up close, real close, so close as to reach out and touch, the reverberation fells almost forbidden. Privy to every twitch and flex, above my head soars the embodiment of Naharin’s Gaga. “Body builders with soft spine,” aware of their “explosive power.”[note]Ohad Naharin, Batsheva Dance Company website, assessed October 19, 2015[/note]

When Ian Robinson lands crouched at the foot of the stage and appears to look right through me, I fail to return his gaze. Seated up close, the intensity of expression across the faces of all the dancers is fantastically unnerving so as to feel almost voyeuristic.

As Hsiang crouches like a small pebble atop Shamel Pitts, I am reminded of moments within “Sadeh21” when one dancer stood atop another in a cat-like pose. As Iyar Elezra in small white tutu vibrates before the convulsing Barry: the familiar tapping into of unconscious, animalistic movement. As Pitts slithers beneath three dancers in bridge pose, the fluidity of their upper bodies, hypnotic. The recurring motifs of balance, sensual connectedness, and the ability to yield, are all in evidence. “Gaga is a lot about developing bigger awareness, so what is delicate becomes more delicate, what is wild becomes more wild, what is quick becomes more quick. It’s about the flow of energy and being available, open. Even if we don’t move, it is a state of mind that you are available—for anything.”[note]Ohad Naharin quoted by Francesca Horsley, “Deca Dance, by the Batsheva Dance Company,” New Zealand Listener, January 9, 2014[/note]

Just as there are recurring motifs within the choreography, within Gaga there are recognisable tendues, arabesques, and bourrées alongside jaw-dropping backbends that hover, teasingly, just above the floor from a wide-legged stance (Elezra and Zinchenko: I’m looking at you). The emphasis feels always about expression over an overt display of virtuosity, even though I am frequently left in awe by its energy and power.

As coloured confetti not gunfire rains, a white flag is proudly waved, and Robinson sets to making a structure from packaging tape, radiating from a standing microphone. A cacophony of noise! The screech of tape, that deafening sound! Binding the dancers together, one at a time, with an endless roll (a seamless transitioning between three rolls of tape worn as bracelets), the independent parts become one. Resistance, in this case, literally means tape garrotting your neck. The tape at first seems playful in its futility, but the resulting restrictions read as anything but. Unable to move in the free means previously relished, “Last Work” draws to dramatic, inevitable close. However, I read a message of hope in the curtain call where the dancers share two pairs of small scissors[note]A small aside: as someone who works with collage, I especially delight in seeing scissors being used on the stage. To anyone who has even wrapped multiple packages: you will undoubtedly enjoy the brown packaging tape sequence as you marvel at Robinson’s dexterity. The tape doesn’t split! The end of the roll appears easily found![/note] and cut themselves free. As with “Decadance” beginning before it started, so too, “Last Work” does not end, and I cannot wait to see what follows.

Gracia Haby


Using an armoury of play and poetry as a lure, Gracia Haby is an artist besotted with paper. Her limited edition artists’ books, and other works hard to pin down, are often made collaboratively with fellow artist, Louise Jennison. Their work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia and state libraries throughout Australia to the Tate (UK). Gracia Haby is known to collage with words as well as paper.

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