Dance goes 'Gaga'

TESSA JOHNSTONE
Last updated 08:43 21/02/2014
Deca Dance

CONSTANTLY EVOLVING: Batsheva Dance Company's Deca Dance stitches together dance works devised as many as 10 or 20 years ago.

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Although you will be seated with hundreds of others, as far as choreographer Ohad Naharin is concerned, it is just you and he in the room.

"It's very personal from me, very personal from my dancers, and I connect to the audience even though the audience is always a large group of people. I target my work to the individual who sits in the theatre and watches it."

The seasoned Israeli choreographer, in Wellington with 18 dancers from the Batsheva Dance Company to perform Deca Dance, is hoping the audience will see a small glimpse of who he is through the one-hour collection of contemporary dance works.

First performed in 2000 to celebrate a decade as artistic director of Batsheva, Naharin describes Deca Dance as a playground, a show that is constantly evolving as the repertoire of the Tel Aviv-based company changes.

It stitches together dance works devised as long as 10 or 20 years ago - but a good piece of choreography often needs time to mature, says Naharin.

The 61-year-old is always striving to bring coherency to the multi-layered show and, although there is no single narrative, there are plenty of stories.

"There are always stories. It can be a story of volume, overstatement, speed, explosiveness, you can recognise human values, delicacies - it tells a story, just like when you listen to music.

"I feel there is a story in everything. But it is not a conventional or a conservative story."

The music used in Deca Dance is also varied, ranging from Vivaldi to Dean Martin, but Naharin says it is only a small part of the experience - and dance always comes first.

"It's so clear to me that dance doesn't need music. You can dance to silence. Dance needs time and space, it doesn't need anything else. Music comes as an element, an important element, but it can be added and subtracted."

Naharin is well known in the dance world for his innovative process, illustrated best by his development of a movement language aptly called "Gaga".

Dancers and non-dancers alike gather for classes where mirrors are banned and people can just let go.

"We need to listen to our body before we tell it what to do. Dancing is first listening to your body. Listen to the scope of sensations, listen to places of atrophy, listen to places of blockage of energy, of flow of energy, to the form, the distance between your body parts, listen to the sensitivity of your skin, listen to the gravity going through your body, listen to the distance of things, how far your body is from the elements, from other things, from the universe."

It makes for happy dancers, says Naharin, which is what ultimately guides his work.

"The interpretation of the work is really what turns me on when I watch it. What I watch is my dancers, not my choreography. And what the dancers offer has a lot to do with passion, skills and imagination."

Naharin and his dancers had their first practice at the St James yesterday and, although he has heard it is a challenging stage to work on, he is unfazed.

"The ability to create the magic of a performance does not depend on it."

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ANTI-ISRAEL PROTEST EXPECTED

A protest outside St James Theatre tomorrow is likely as part of a long-running campaign against Batsheva Dance Company's alleged support of "apartheid Israel".

"Don't Dance With Israel Apartheid" protests have dogged the company's performances around the world since about 2009, and choreographer Ohad Naharin now refuses to discuss it.

Palestine supporters claim the company is part of a government- backed PR strategy to use "arts and culture to whitewash Israel's human-rights abuses and violations of international law". Protest groups called for the dancers to be denied entry to New Zealand in January.

Naharin supplied this statement to New Zealand media last month: "I am disappointed to see a group of intelligent people wasting their money and their energy on something that won't result in anything. I have experienced this impotent activity for years. The situation in the West Bank is tragic and indeed every effort must be made to change it. If I believed that boycotting our performances could bring any progress in ending the occupation, I would join the boycott myself."

THE DETAILS

Deca Dance, Batsheva Dance Company, choreography by Ohad Naharin, St James Theatre, tonight until Monday, 8pm

- The Dominion Post

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