We were settling into the audience at the Benedum center when I saw E. a few rows down.
I went down to say hi. "Did you feel guilty, crossing the picket line to get in?" I asked her.
"A little," she said, "but this is art. What does art have to do with war?"
I smiled. We were here for Batsheva Dance Company, an Israeli dance troupe founded by Martha Graham and Baroness Batsheva De Rothschild in 1964. Ohad Naharin, the current artistic director, began working with Martha Graham in 1980, at her invitation, after he began his study with Batsheva in the late 1970's.
Israeli dance troupe is all that some people heard. Hence, "Would you dance on my grave?" on one protester's placard. They marched in a steady loop in front of the Benedum's big glass doors. There were cops on every corner of the block.
Inside we were met with a spare stage, grey walls with multiple exits and entrances cut into them. White floors. A steady soft glow from upstage lights. Back of house inner architecture revealed - who'd have thought the Benedum had so many silver ventilation ducts?
Lights up. Dancers dressed in clothes one could order from J. Crew's summer catalogue, polo-necked tees and capri length shorts. Dancing barefoot on white marley, lit from above with 200 lights that shifted very subtly, highlighting the dancers' precise technique.
Bellus opens with a large group of dancers standing, in silence, facing the audience. With no audible cues, they move as one, most of them leaving the stage to that moment's primary dancers as the music starts.
An evenly balanced group of men and women, with bodies many shapes and sizes. They would be an ordinary crowd anywhere (though none of them are overweight).
Late in Bellus I was struck by how gesture was passed from dancer to dancer. Each dancer danced alone, yet expressed the same stories with their bodies.
How like us, in our illusion of aloneness, moving through our heartbreaks, sorrows, and joys isolated, yet just like every person's necessary journies ... The gestures of contemporary life, translated to dance, made into art.
Hilarious, true, small gestures - the male dancer sniffs the female dancer's ass in their duet of seduction (or its lack). Humor popped up elsewhere as the troupe surprised us. It took a few times for the audience to get comfortable laughing. You can laugh at a contemporary dance performance?
Humus : the power of female gestures. Only the female dancers worked together for this piece. They danced as a single organ, a single gender muscle. Stereotypes of walks - the tiptoes of high heels, the swing of jutting hips. Sexual postures placed next to everyday gestures. The rejection presented by this group of women on their knees, hips to the audience, their knees crossing their legs behind them. They look back at the audience, cold. They hold pose, then shift, stand up, flock into movements as birds.
Humus perfectly coordinated against a Brian Eno soundtrack containing no punctual rhythm. The soundtrack was so soft it pulled all of one's sensory perception into one's eyes.
By the time we reached Secus I was totally rapt. I trusted this choreographer, these dancers, completely. When they came to the moments of nudity, gestures exposing gendered difference (or its lack), gestures exposing the rump ... it made perfect sense in this context.
Yes, I cried when the mano-a-mano duet played out. Such emotional intimacy shared forthrightly by two men on stage. Yes the audience was palpably uncomfortable with it. I want so badly for us to get over that.
This is art, what does art have to do with war? What do we expect two men to do in a dance with each other on stage?
A language developed by a person with Pittsburgh roots circled the globe. It returned to us tonight in an extraordinary performance ...
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Batsheva dance company at the Benedum center 5 February 2009
by Ohad Naharin
70 minute program of three pieces : Bellus, Humus, and Secus. No intermission.